Who can you talk to about being childless?

Worry about whether or not you will ever have children is eating you alive. Your spouse/partner refuses to talk about it or gets angry when you mention it. I suppose that’s why so readers seek refuge here. You say: Finally, someone I can talk to. I can’t say these things to anyone else.

I’m glad to provide a place where you can say whatever you need to say and get responses from people who understand, but are you sure there’s no one else in your life whom you can talk to about being childless by marriage?

Looking back on my own life, I didn’t share my concerns. I didn’t want to worry my parents. I didn’t have a sister. While I was married to my first husband, my brother was working full-time and going to law school; kids weren’t on his agenda yet. And my second husband, Fred, was my brother’s friend long before I met him.

I didn’t have the kind of intimate friends I could share this with. In my 20s, I wasn’t that worried about it. There was so much time ahead of us. We were all busy with college and careers.

When I was married to Fred and the prospect of never having children was becoming a certainty, who did I talk to? Not my parents. Not my new sister-in-law, who didn’t understand. Not my brother, who had two children now. I didn’t discuss it with my friends. I could have. Some of them didn’t have children either, but I didn’t share my pain with them. I gave them terse comments: we can’t, I can’t, I have three stepchildren, I hate Mother’s Day . . . I didn’t let them into my grief and worry or my desire to hold a baby and watch it grow into a person.

I have been in counseling off and on throughout my life for depression and anxiety. But honestly none of my therapists have understood what it’s like. They blew off my concerns with easy answers: enjoy other people’s kids, embrace your stepchildren, find other outlets for your energy.

Talk to a priest? Priests are programmed to promote parenthood. Anything less is a sin.

Of course, the person we most need to talk with about this, our partner, is often the most difficult. You tiptoe into the subject, trying not to make him/her angry, trying not to put a kink in your relationship. Nagging doesn’t help (I really, really, really want to have a baby). Neither does silent anger or crying in the bathroom (What’s wrong? Nothing!)

I think we’re embarrassed sometimes to admit that we have this problem with our relationship. We’re afraid of glib answers and misunderstandings. We’re afraid our friends and family will start to hate the person we love. They might urge us to leave him or her. They might start to treat our partner badly. Or they might take his/her side when there shouldn’t be sides, just everyone loving and trying to work things out.

I have a best friend now with whom I can discuss my childlessness, even though she’s a mother and grandmother. She knows how touchy I am about babies, knows I wish I had a family like she does. She has her own family issues, which we discuss freely. But where was she when I was in the thick of it?

I look back now at friends I used to have. I could have talked to them. I should have talked to them. This is an awfully big burden to carry alone, especially if you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking about leaving the relationship because you don’t want to live a life without children.

I have said way more about me than I intended to. What about you? Who in your life can you be totally honest with and talk about your no-baby situation? Do your parents or siblings know how you feel? Is there a friend, an aunt, or a co-worker with whom you can talk it out?

I was just thinking about soap operas. I haven’t watched them for a long time, but it seems the characters have all the heavy conversations that we never have in real life. Sipping wine, their hair perfectly coiffed, they let it all out, weep big TV tears, and hug as the scene fades to a commercial.

Can we do that? What do you think? Is there someone you can talk to, someone you can trust to not blab your secrets or stomp all over your feelings? It’s so important to let it out. The dog is good, but she’s spayed, and she doesn’t speak English.

Let’s talk about talking about it. I welcome your comments.

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Next week’s post will be number 700! I’m thinking we should have a party. Details to follow.

Childless by Marriage Blog Book Coming

Dear friends,

This is the 697th post since I started this blog in 2007. Why didn’t I wait for 700? Impatient. Plus, I have finally gotten the first draft of “the Best of the Childless by Marriage blog” put together. It’s 700 pages! Serious editing will be needed to cut it to a reasonable 300. I don’t care so much about my posts as about the wonderful comments you all have contributed over the years. I just can’t include them all, so I’ll be pruning heavily.

Meanwhile, I have some questions for you.

* What should I title this thing? I can’t call it Childless by Marriage because I have already published a book by that name. I was going to title it “Stay or Go” because so much of the discussion here is about whether to leave a partner who won’t do parenthood with you, but that has been used recently by someone else (and it sounds like a good book). I assume whatever the title is, there will be a subtitle identifying it as the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. But I welcome your suggestions.

* I was thinking I would use the puppy picture on the cover to match the blog. Is that dumb or a good idea?

* Judging by the number of comments, the posts about whether or not to leave your partner and the ones about step-parenting draw the most heat, but what topics do you most want to read about? Which ones just don’t do it for you?

* Do you mind if I use your comments with no full real names, just whatever you called yourself, whether it’s Anonymous or R2D2? If you object, please let me know at sufalick@gmail.com.

* If you commented before, could you look back and see if you can give us an update so we know how things turned out? I suppose if you’re now busy with your babies, you won’t be reading this anymore, but if you are, is there any news to share?

A lot has certainly changed in our lives and in the world since I started this blog. I suspect the 2020 census will show that more and more people are delaying marriage and children well into their 30s and 40s and that more are not having children at all.

When I started this blog, very few people were publishing anything about childlessness, and most of the books were about infertility. Now we’ve got numerous wonderful authors with books and blogs on childlessness [see my resource list], and the conversation is opening up. But we have been having this conversation here for years. Do you realize that if we had had babies the year I started the Childless by Marriage blog, they would be teenagers now?

As I approach 700 posts, rest assured that I have no plans to stop blogging. The blog was originally designed to promote my book, but it has taken on a life of its own. Whenever I think everything has been said, something else comes along. So stick around. See you next Wednesday. Thank you for being here.

I welcome your comments.

 

Who are we saving our COVID-19 stories for?

A writer friend, Grace Elting Castle wrote a column in the local paper last week about how we ought to document our experiences during this COVID-19 crisis for our children, grandchildren and the generations that follow. Journal, write letters, and save newspaper articles, she says. Your children’s children’s children will want to know what it was like. She says she wishes she had asked her grandparents more about their lives.

Stories Grandma Never Told_justified text.pmdWell, I have been thinking the same thing about my own grandparents. In fact I wrote a whole book called Stories Grandma Never Told sparked by what I didn’t know about my grandmother’s experiences growing up Portuguese-American in California. I interviewed a whole bunch of Portuguese women to get their stories, and I’m glad I did. Many of them have since passed away. But own grandmother’s stories died with her.

Not only did I not ask about her Portugueseness. It never occurred to me to ask about the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic that was so like the COVID-19 crisis we’re living through now. All four of my grandparents were teens or young adults at that time, and they could have told me. They could have told all of us. Maybe we would have learned something. But they never talked about it, and we didn’t ask. We all assumed it would never happen again.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Those of us who don’t have children have no one to save all this information for. Do we? Certainly no children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. Maybe descendants of our siblings’ kids will be interested later on. Maybe not. So what do we do with our stories, just let them die with us?

I’m a writer. I can’t do that. I feel compelled to keep a record. I’m writing, I’m saving information, I’m documenting the whole thing. I’m not planning to write a book about it. God knows we’ll be drowning in coronavirus books in a year or two. But I’m taking notes.

I grieve the loss of descendants. I want there to be someone down the genealogical line with my name and my genes who wants to know what it was like, who will treasure every scrap of information she can get about what it was like for me and others during this time. I want that so bad, but I can’t have it. And yes, I know that if I had children and grandchildren, they might not be interested at all.

Going through a box of my parents’ things the other night, I came upon a tiny prayer book published in 1922. I think it was my grandmother’s. It’s a beautiful thing with lovely illustrations. Who will want it when I go? I placed it with my other keepsakes from dead loved ones, including a Portuguese prayer book that my childless great-aunt left behind. It’s so old I wonder if one of her parents brought it from Portugal in the 1800s. Maybe that little Portuguese book offers an answer. Aunt Edna’s book made its way to me, and I love it. Where it goes from here is not up to me.

I’m not sure who I’m saving my coronavirus stories for. My niece and nephew? Friends? Strangers? My fans (hah)? Maybe they will go to a museum or be archived online. Maybe a researcher or another writer will be overjoyed someday to find my accounts of this time. All I can do it write it. What happens after I die is not up to me.

God help us, whatever we leave behind will go where it goes and we have no control over that.

Grace Castle is the author of A Time to Wail, a Native American novel set here in Oregon. It captures some of her family history. I wish her column had included a paragraph or two that might begin, “And if you don’t have children . . .” but I guess we have to fill that part in for ourselves.

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How are you doing during this time of fear and isolation? My neighbor and her daughter are coming outside every night at 8 p.m. and howling like wolves. They are joining a growing group of howlers across the country expressing their frustration as well as their support for healthcare workers and first responders. I have joined them a couple times and plan to do it tonight. What the heck. Go out and howl. See if anyone howls back. Awwwoooooooo!

I welcome your comments.

Childless or not, Easter comes again

Dear friends,

How do I make this blog relevant in these days when we’re all thinking about the coronavirus, COVID-19, and its effects on our health, our finances, and our whole lives? I mean John Prine died yesterday, they’re running out of places to put the bodies in New York, millions of people have suddenly lost their jobs, and we’re running around wearing masks. It’s a strange world. When I look around my community, it seems that the Rapture (all the good people taken up to heaven) has happened and we were left behind with no jobs, a massive recession, and constant fear that we or someone we love will catch this disease from a friend, off our groceries, or in the wind and die. How on earth can we even think about childlessness and whether or not to have a baby?

At least that’s how I feel—and that’s on the good days when I’m not so depressed I think about drinking my way through the liquor cabinet. (I’m not. There’s green tea in my cup.)

But it’s Easter. For Christians, this is Holy Week, celebrating the events leading up to Jesus’s death and resurrection. For Jews, today is Passover, when God saved his people from death. For all of us, it’s spring, the sun finally coming out, tulips and daffodils blooming, buds on trees and shrubs promising flowers and fruit. In spite of all the craziness, spring is still happening.

Spring is a time of fertility, of birth and rebirth. Easter is a time of families celebrating together. Last year, I watched my cousins’ kids hunt for Easter eggs as we gathered in the sun for a barbecue at my aunt’s house. There were at least 25 people there. This year, we’ll all be separated. We can’t even go to church.

You might see sheltering in place as a blessing for those of us who find family gatherings painful. This year, for once, you can stay home without excuses or guilt and do Easter your way–or ignore it altogether. Will you dye eggs, pig out on candy, put bunny ears on the dog, sip wine on the porch, make love, or watch videos? Will you “Facetime” or Skype with family, including the little ones? Me, I’m planning to attend church online and then have myself a picnic in the back yard. We can do whatever we want. We still have options; they’re just different.

I hope and pray that you and your loved ones are well. Whether you have COVID-19 or something else, it’s a terrible time to be sick, with access to health care so limited and people not allowed to bring anyone with them for support. I read online about a pregnant woman who is terrified to deliver her baby in the midst of this crisis. We’re all kind of scared. Most of us believe we would survive if we got the virus, but what if we don’t?

What is my point today? We all have to survive this time in our own way. When I told my brother it is difficult being alone, he replied that it is also difficult being at home with three grandchildren under age 5. I’m jealous that he and his kids and grandkids are together but grateful I can read and write and sleep in peace. Meanwhile, this is an opportunity to try new ways of being and thinking and doing.

How are you managing this Easter week? How are you feeling about being childless now? Has the COVID-19 affected your relationship with your mate? Has it changed your thoughts about having or not having children?

Please comment. I’m here. We’re all here. You are not alone.

 

 

 

Isolation spreads faster than COVID-19

Trees 61814

COVID-19, the coronovirus, is splitting up families. One of my friends is afraid he’ll never see his parents alive again. They’re in a nursing home, and visitors are not allowed. Indeed, as of Monday, in Oregon and a growing number of other states, we have all been ordered to stay at home. It’s a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or time in jail, to venture out on a “nonessential” trip. The idea is to stop the spread of the virus. Instead, we’re spreading fear and isolation. It can’t be avoided, I suppose, but it’s painful.

My aunt, just a few years older than I am, lives across the street from her son’s family in Santa Clara, California. Because she has some serious health problems and because the grandchildren have been out and about until very recently, she is not seeing them now, except on her telephone. Those kids have been part of her everyday life since they were born. With her job winding down and all social activities canceled, she is suddenly as isolated as I am.

My friend Bill lives in an assisted living facility. Going on two weeks now, the residents have not been allowed to go out, and no visitors are allowed in. Their meals are dropped off outside their doors. Used to socializing and going out for lunch, shopping and church, he says he’s going stir-crazy. He can’t see his friends. He has no children, but he’s worried about his sister’s family in California. The lockdown is meant to keep him safe, but he feels like he’s in jail.

My life is not so different from usual these days. I miss my church and my writing and music groups, but most days I still do the same old things: writing, practicing music, walking the dog, interacting on Facebook, doing my chores, eating, and watching TV. I live in the coastal forest. When I step out the door, I rarely see other people. I’m already isolated.

If I had children whom I could not be with, this shelter-in-place thing would be a whole lot worse. I would worry about them getting sick. I would give them hell for not protecting themselves. I would worry about them losing their jobs. I would worry about the kids stuck at home with nothing to do. I’d want to jump in and help. But like my aunt, I am “older” and not supposed to go anywhere. Nor am I supposed to welcome groups of people into my house. At the moment, I’m grateful not to have to deal with this angst.

I’ll be slipping out for groceries and mail today. I’ll be walking my dog. I’ll telephone at least one friend I know is also alone. And then I’ll go back to my solo life.

All anyone talks about these days is the virus. Newscasters seem to have forgotten everything else happening in the world: wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, immigrant parents and children separated at the Mexican border, even the upcoming U.S. election. Jody Day, whom I wrote about last week, says comments have dropped off on her blog. The same thing has happened here. Have we become so distracted by the pandemic that nothing else matters right now? What is your thinking about having children in this crazy time? How are you doing? Please comment.

So Many Moms and Babies Out There!

Dear friends,

I was supposed to be in San Antonio, Texas today for the giant AWP writer’s conference, but so many writers, editors and publishers cancelled due to the coronavirus fears that I decided not to go. It no longer seemed worth the time and effort. Judging by the photos published this morning of empty spaces where thousands of wordsmiths would normally be, I’m sure I made the right choice.

I made this decision on the road to the Portland airport, where I had a hotel reserved for their “park and fly” program. I was already on the fence when the friend in Texas I had planned to visit called to tell me not to come. That cinched it. Not going to Texas, but I already had a room in Portland. Might as well spend the night there, right? I had a house/dogsitter taking care of Annie. I had scheduled the week away from all my usual activities. Instead of seeing San Antonio, I would create a vacation right here in Oregon. I would read, write, shop, and visit local attractions.

The Grotto in Portland was beautiful and inspiring as usual. It’s a Catholic shrine and botanical garden full of statues commemorating the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, with a meditation chapel, a church, and a gift shop. No kids, just adults seeking spiritual connections. There was one bump: a plaque on the path to the meditation chapel extols the glories of motherhood. Even here, I thought. But it’s a Catholic place; of course moms are honored. In the gift shop, I saw many books about being a parent, not one about not being a parent, unless you count the biographies of the various saints. I’m pretty sure a lot of the martyrs never had a chance to have children.

Sad, but then again, I was glad not to be Mary and watch my son die nailed to a cross.

It wasn’t until I got to Salem that I became fully aware of how different life is in my Oregon coast town where the average age is well past menopause. Suddenly I was surrounded by young people and their kids. At lunch, a mom sat at the table next to me with six kids. She did a good job of keeping them under control. I watched her show her son how to eat his massive German pancake and felt a little twinge as I ate my BLT alone. I’ll never be surrounded by kids who look like me and whom I can teach everything I know.

Salem, an hour south of Portland, has a wonderful waterfront park that includes miles of walking paths along the Willamette River, plus a playground and a carousel. I watched a father walking with his tiny daughter, so cute. I watched a teenage couple holding hands. I smiled at a guy playing bongo drums. All good, but at the playground, I felt like an outsider. There were all those young moms and all those kids, and it was like I came from foreign country. I had never been part of that group, never would be.

When I was their age, I was a newspaper reporter, walking around in a blazer, carrying a notebook and a camera, watching, never part of the group. I was never the mom pushing her child on the swing. I thought about taking a picture, but these days you can’t take photos of a stranger’s kids without the parents thinking you’re a stalker. I walked past them like a ghost and continued past the indoor carousel, where I didn’t feel the right to go inside since I had no children and I didn’t want to ride the horses myself.

It was still beautiful out there. I had a lovely solo dinner in the hotel restaurant where I watched a group of young men order beers two at a time. No kids. But I still felt the loss. If only . . .

Now, I know if I had children with me, I’d be staying someplace cheaper, if I could afford to travel with them at all, and we’d be eating at the greasy spoon across the street, but there’s no avoiding the feeling of being left out, of having missed something. At home, with most of my friends older than I am, I can avoid it more than you probably can wherever you live. Do you see women with baby bumps wherever you go? Are there parents and little kids everywhere? That makes it ever so much harder.

Is it some kind of blessing that we don’t have kids to worry about during this coronavirus scare? The parents I know always seem to have colds they caught from their kids. Are we safer because of our childless status? Would we rather have the sniffles than be childless?

I’m rambling. I need to get my hotel breakfast before I plunge back into the world of parents and children. Stay well.

 

Movies Don’t Reflect our Childless Lives

annie-9314I’m falling asleep at my computer. The needy dog kept me awake last night. She is still unnerved by the wild thunderstorm that rumbled our houses in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Poor Annie was so frightened she squeezed up against the bed, trembling like crazy. Her aged knees, both held together with plates and screws, wouldn’t let her jump up on the bed, and she’s too heavy for me to lift so I leaned over and held her.

I never heard thunder like that here on the Oregon coast before. Lightning flashes pierced my shade, immediately followed by thunder that shook the walls and windows and rattled the roof. It went on and on as I held my dog, saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She disagreed, still shaking. Eventually I got up, stuffed a sedative into a doughy pill pocket and gave it to her. The thunder subsided and we both went back to sleep.

But this morning at 3 a.m., there she was again. “Hey, hey, comfort me.” Sigh. I kissed her nose and tried to go back to sleep, but all the things swirling around in my mind crowded out the fascinating dream I’d been having earlier.

My dog is not my child, but I imagine if I had a child, I would have been awake comforting her in the same way—except she wouldn’t have had to stay on the floor.

I can’t help thinking about that scene in “The Sound of Music” movie where there’s a big storm and all of the kids come piling into Julie Andrew’s bedroom. They climb onto her bed and everybody sings “My Favorite Things.” And then they’re all happy. They weren’t even her kids, although they were destined to become her stepchildren and they would love her completely because their own mother was dead and they desperately needed a mom. In real life, after they escaped the Nazis, Maria and the captain–who was 25 years older than she was!–had three more children together, bringing the total to 10. It was just one big happy family.

Ah, fairy tales. Okay, this really happened, minus the singing and dancing with perfect hair and makeup in the middle of the night, but it was a long time ago. Now I laugh as I imagine the captain’s more realistic response when Maria says she wants a baby of her own. “Are you freaking kidding me? I have seven already.” But he didn’t say that. We don’t know what he said in real life.

I was brought up on movies like “The Sound of Music” and countless other films where the happy endings always included marriage and babies. No wonder some of us feel ripped off now. What the heck happened to our happy endings?

Movies are different today. The characters shoot and swear more than they sing. But they still don’t often give us couples who disagree about having children or just plain can’t have them. Can you name any movies–or TV shows–that do? Let’s try to make a list. Carrie and Big on “Sex and the City,” Bob and Emily on the “Bob Newhart Show.” Who else?

You can find a list of movies and TV shows that include struggles with infertility here at mothermag.com. But there sure are a lot more listings for movies about pregnancy. In movie situations where a couple finds they can’t have children for some reason, either they seem to miraculously get pregnant anyway or they adopt a child, easy peasy. Hey, Hollywood, not everybody gets to have a baby.

It’s twilight-dark at 10 a.m. Another storm is coming. The dog is barking. Must see what’s bugging her now. She is not my child, but when she comes to me in the night, I need to mother her anyway.

Let’s talk movies and TV shows. Have you seen any that reflect our childless by marriage or by circumstance situations? Or is it babies, babies, babies?

 

Surviving the Mom and Dad Talk

Well, miracles can happen. I went to a party last night with my church friends, men and women in their 60s and 70s. They spent at least an hour talking nonstop about children and grandchildren, and I didn’t mind.

Maybe it’s because I know and love these people so much. I was truly interested in their stories: the grandson who was expected to read in kindergarten, the adult daughter who has finally gotten pregnant via in vitro, the adult son who got hooked on drugs, the foster children struggling in high school. We talked about some of the kids we knew from religious education at church, kids we all care about. I contributed tidbits about my stepson and about the new baby the postmistress is bringing to work with her, and I did not even think about my own lack of children. Nor did anyone mention it.

I think they all knew I don’t have kids. It was just not an issue. I’m the writer, the choir director, the one who made the heavenly salad, and the one whose father recently died. I’m just Sue. Not classified by my not-mom status.

Maybe that delicious glass of Cabernet Franc helped, but I was okay. So I’m telling you that if parent talk is unbearable now, someday it will be okay. God knows I couldn’t deal with it in my 30s and 40s. I was hurt, sad, and angry. But I’m okay now. Do I wish I had grown children and grandchildren of my own? I sure do, but last night I felt like we all cared about all the kids.

It was also nice to be with these good people who really care about each other instead of at home with the dog in a house with no heat. Yes, the pellet stove died again. It has been that kind of week. Check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more on that.

I almost didn’t go to the party. I made an emergency visit to the eye doctor in the afternoon. On Monday I started seeing flashes of light that weren’t supposed to be there. After a few hours, I saw black blobs and what looked like a Halloween spider hanging from a black web. Not good. This being a small town where the doctors visit from larger cities only on certain days, I couldn’t see a doctor here until yesterday and not even my regular eye doctor.

Meanwhile, I immediately started thinking what if I go blind? I won’t be able to live here alone. Who will take care of me? Will I have to go to a retirement home? Oh God, oh God. I had to keep reminding myself that I could still see; I just had these spooky additions to what I was seeing.

I’m not going blind. I have a “posterior vitreous detachment” in my left eye. I had one once before, but this time it’s worse. What happens is pieces of the gelatinous fibers around the retina break off and cause “floaters,” those dark spots and streaks I’ve been seeing. It’s a common part of aging. In time, the flashes stop and the black things become less noticeable. That’s not so bad. The danger is a tear in the retina itself, which the doctor did not see. However, he did see some hemorrhaging (bleeding) in that eye, so he is having me see a retina specialist next week. It’s probably no big deal. Right?

But it’s hard not to think about what happens if something in my health changes and I suddenly can’t live on my own. Maybe I should be grateful I don’t have children who will insist on putting me in a nursing home. But I certainly need to be prepared, just in case.

My dilated pupil was close enough to normal by 6:00 that I could drive to the party, and I had fun with my friends, even though we talked about kids a lot. The stars last night were amazing, and I was grateful I could see them. The spider in my eye is just one more Halloween decoration.  

I got my first copies of my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, yesterday, and I have been busy packaging copies to send to people who helped me with it or were kind enough to pre-order them months ago. You might say I have another book baby. Number nine. I’m Catholic, you know.

So that’s why the blog is a day late. Thank you to those who added to my “If you are childless, you will never . . . list from last week.

Keep ‘em coming.

We talk a lot about how uncomfortable being with the mom and dad crowd can be, but do you sometimes find yourselves in situations where you actually enjoy it? Please share in the comments.  

Babies? Today yes, tomorrow no, the next day ?

I have been editing past posts in preparation for compiling them into a “Best of Childless by Marriage” ebook (maybe a paperback, too). It’s slow work because I’m checking almost 700 posts and thousands of comments for typos and bad links. We have some serious disagreements about commas, periods and capital letters, but I’m surprised at how many of my own errors slipped by in my responses to your comments.

I am not changing the content of your comments, even though every now and then someone blasts me for my opinion or for seeming to contradict myself. They’re probably right. I may very well have said X in one post and Z in another. My feelings and opinions change with time and circumstance. Not everything. Murder is always bad, love is always good. But what about abortion, birth control, marriage, and babies? Depends on when you ask.

For example, someone scolded me back in 2014 for saying I was grateful for my stepchildren when I said the opposite in a previous post. Ask me again, and I’ll give you another answer. Today I regret that Fred’s kids and grandkids are not in my life anymore. I feel guilty for not reaching out when I could. Another day, I might turn it around and ask why they didn’t reach out to me while I was taking care of their father. Depends on the day.

I’m not the only wishy-washy one. Many readers have commented about how they or their partners changed their minds about having babies. They wanted them before; now they don’t. They had no interest in being parents; now they do. This is rarely a black and white question (physical problems aside). You see someone loving their children and think I want that. You see a couple having a miserable time trying to control their screaming, food-throwing offspring in a restaurant and think I do not want that.

Maybe a loved one dies, or you suffer a health scare, and everything suddenly looks different. You realize that you really must have children—or that you never will.

It doesn’t even need to be a big moment, just a sudden stirring of regret.

Sometimes getting pregnant is part of a conscious plan, but I wonder how often it happens that couples are cuddling in bed, full of hormonal happiness, and one says, “Let’s have a baby.” The other says, “Okay!” In the morning, when egg and sperm might have already gotten together, one of them thinks, Wait, what happened? I’m not sure . . . .

For some couples, it’s not so easy to get pregnant, so they have to decide whether they want to try fertility treatments, use donor sperm, or try to adopt. Again, they may change their minds every other day. It’s difficult and expensive, and the child would not be biologically related, but oh, they want a baby. Don’t they?

I have said before that things were less complicated before the 1960s, when people had fewer choices. No birth control, no legal abortions, fewer career opportunities for women. They grew up, got married (once) and had babies if they could. And they probably did it in their 20s when they were most fertile. Did people have doubts before? Did husbands and wives want different things? I’m sure they did.

Our thoughts are not like the ones and zeros that run computers. People don’t run on microchips; they change their minds.

I know this for sure: I’m glad you are here. Also, we all need to proofread what we write.

As I read through past posts, I see a lot of good stuff, especially in the comments, and I see some readers who have continued at Childless by Marriage for years. Their comments are as good as any of my posts, and I thank you all.

The ebook won’t include every post, just the ones that sparked the most interest. Some have gotten more than 250 comments! Top topics include: couples disagreeing about having children, abortion, grief over never having children, worrying about old age, and pets as child substitutes.

Keep reading, keep writing, and I’ll keep editing. If you or your partner change your mind from day to day, don’t panic. It’s normal.

Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out

I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.

I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.

I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.

What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.

Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:

Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.

Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.

(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)

Full-time motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.

These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.

Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.

(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)

Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.

There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?

Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.

If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?

How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?

Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911

What do you think?

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In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.