Katherine Baldwin says she is childless by ambivalence. A former journalist turned relationship coach and author of the book How to Fall in Love, she says she was always of two minds about having children. Growing up, she got a negative view of motherhood. For her single mother, having children seemed to be a terrible burden that took away all her dreams.
Baldwin chose her career instead. “For the first, say, 34 years of my life, I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in having children. I didn’t feel a yearning. I didn’t make a space in my life to think about them or plan for them. I was too busy traveling and focusing on my career.”
It wasn’t until she found herself in a good relationship with a man that she began to think about settling down with a husband and children. That relationship ended, but she was now ambivalent about motherhood. Some days she wanted it, other days not so much. Does that sound familiar to any of you?.
Ambivalence is a big word. My Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings” or “continual fluctuation between one thing and its opposite.” In plain English, you keep changing your mind. You have two choices and don’t want to let go of either one.
In her book, Baldwin describes how she was ambivalent about everything in life, and that’s one of the reasons she was in her 40s before she found a relationship she could stick with. She broke up with that man several times before making a commitment to live with him and then to marry him. What was scaring her away? He did not want to have children. And she was . . . ambivalent.They kept coming back together. At 42, she decided to set aside her baby dreams. She was getting a bit old and had never been certain about motherhood anyway. She chose the relationship, knowing it meant remaining childless. And they are happy together.
That’s that, right? No. In a recent interview on the One in Five podcast, she said she still grieves the loss of children. “When in my stages of grief, I wish that we had tried.” She wonders if they might have had kids if they had met 10 years earlier. But most days, she accepts things as they are. “I try to live by the idea that I want what I have.” She urges her clients to do the same. Make a choice and learn to accept what we have, knowing that we did the best we could at the time.
At this blog, we talk about being childless by marriage, but I wonder if many of us are, like Baldwin, childless by ambivalence. If I’m being totally honest, I know that I am. I was fairly broody during my first marriage, back when I had this idyllic picture of being a stay-at-home mom who writes books. But by the time I met Fred, work had become a major factor in my life. Asked to give up my writing or my music, I would have responded with a solid “Hell no.” But asked to give up babies? I was never directly asked, but my answer would have been, “I don’t know.” Maybe I assumed the step-children would be enough. But instead of devoting myself to them, I kept working, kept singing and playing, and enrolled in graduate school. When would I have had time to raise children? Yet I wept and ranted about the unfairness of not being a mother. I was, and still am, ambivalent.
It would seem that if a person was absolutely sure they wanted children, they wouldn’t commit to a partner who refuses to have them or who won’t give a straight answer about it, who keeps them hoping they will change their mind. The kids/no kids question would be a deal-breaker. And yet, who wants to be alone? Who wants to leave an otherwise perfect relationship because of this one thing?
Maybe we’re all ambivalent.
What do you think? Are you of two minds about motherhood or fatherhood? What is keeping you from making one definite choice? Please comment. I’d love to know what you think.