Welcome to the Childless by Marriage page, home of the book, information about childlessness, links to resources and more.
Excerpt from Childless by Marriage. A sample from the book with information on what the other chapters contain. If you like what you’re reading, click on the book cover for a link to purchase the book either in paperback or Kindle format.
Childless by Marriage Blog: Let’s talk about being childless because your mate can’t or doesn’t want to have children with you. This is not a site for the happily childfree who never wanted kids. There are plenty of blogs for you. Search for “childfree blogs” and have a good time.
New at the Blog: Fear of regretting your choice to not have children, how to survive when everybody’s talking about their kids, and “If you’re childless, you will never… ”
Childless by Marriage Facebook page. Let’s get the conversation going.
Ever lose a friend because she has children and you don’t? Me too. I wrote an essay about it that has been published in a new book, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends. Click here to order a copy, and click here to find out more about it.
www.tokidornottokid.com–Maxine Trump has produced a documentary titled “To Kid or Not to Kid.” Wherever you fall on the childfree/childless spectrum, it’s a fascinating film.
www.lauracarroll.com–The author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix has a great website full of interesting posts and resources about not having children.
www.thechildlesslife.com–Sandy Michelet blogs here about the childless life. Her posts are fun and informative.
www.moretolife.co.uk, a UK charity providing support, advice and information to people who are involuntarily childless.
www.StepTalk.org–for childless stepparents who want to vent.
www.childrenornot.blogspot.com–for women struggling with the decision to have children or remain childfree.
Gateway-women.com–a UK organization designed to support, empower and inspire childless women, who are referred to here as “noMos,” not mothers.
Lifewithoutbaby.com–This is a wonderful, supportive blog hosted by Lisa
Manterfield, author of I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home.
www.cmoma.org/cmc–Childless Mothers Connect–an online resource for all women without children to find resources and join discussion forums that fit their particular interests.
www.TheNotMom.com–This is just full of fascinating information about being childless or childfree.
www.Childfreereflections.com–Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of Childfree Woman, offer thoughts and advice from the viewpoint of a “wise aunt” who never had children.
Books on childlessness have changed considerably in the 30 years I have been reading about the subject. In the 1980s and early 1990s, most works addressed childlessness as a tragedy, an emptiness that needed to be filled by adoption or some other type of mothering substitute–raising dogs, teaching, social work, and other nurturing activities. Then came a rash of books proclaiming the right to be “childfree.”
More recently, women have written about what a burden children are, advising their peers that if they throw away their contraceptives, they will probably also be sacrificing careers, leisure time, and sleep. Our parents lied to us, they say. You can’t do it all. And, you do not have to be a mother.
What worries me is a growing divide between mothers and childless women. But judging by the most recent books, I think we might be coming back around to appreciating all the things we have in common. Jack Shannon Hollis’ This Particular Happiness is particularly encouraging. How to Be Childless by Rachel Chrastil gives us some historical perspective. Dip into these books, arranged from newest to oldest, and make up your own mind.
[I am affiliated with the Amazon Associate program, which pays me a small amount when you purchase items via links on my website.]
How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life without Children by Rachel Chrastil, published by Oxford University Press, 2020. This book is very interesting and very challenging. Chrastil informs us that childlessness is not a new thing. Viewed through the lens of the baby boom, it seems to be a new and alarming phenomenon, but she shows by going back through recorded history that childlessness is not that unusual. She tells the stories of various “singlewomen” in the 1700s who never married or had children for various reasons, of women who used various methods and devices to prevent pregnancy, and of women who for economic and social reasons never had the opportunity to become mothers. This part of the book is very interesting, especially as she tracks the trends into modern times. The second half, the “philosophy” part, is more daunting. The average reader will be mired in academic language as Chrastil looks at the potential for regret, childlessness in old age, the morality of giving birth when the future of the world is uncertain, etc. A sample of the language: “[Historians] look for contingency, for diaspora, for resistance, for hegemony and subalternity as ways to explain the complexity of the modern world.” In this section, the author’s own preference to be childfree becomes apparent. What I gather from these chapters is that it matters less whether or not we have children than what we choose to do with our lives and how we choose to feel about it. Don’t expect to rush through this one.
This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis. Published by Forest Avenue Press, 2019. Finally someone has told the story of what it’s like to be childless because your partner doesn’t want to have kids. Not childless by choice, not childless by infertility, but childless because of whom you love. Yes, I told a similar story in my Childless by Marriage book, but I took a more journalistic approach, with lots of research and interviews. Shannon lays it out there in a beautifully written love story. She had one failed marriage, then married again to a man who was older and did not want to have children. She pushed as hard as she dared to change his mind, but in the end she had to accept that she needed to enjoy the life she had with the man she loved, a life in which they were free to travel and to love their 30-something nieces and nephews. In this book, she takes us through a traumatic event that has affected her whole life. She talks honestly about the friendships she lost because she found it hard to be around while her friends were having babies. The doubts, disappointment, and grief of childlessness are all here, along with the joys and possibilities. If you’re childless or looking at the possibility of being childless, read this, but even if you have a houseful of kids, read it because it’s a good story, the first I hope of many terrific books by Jackie Shannon Hollis.
Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No by Kate Kaufmann, published by She Writes Press, 2019. As a writer and blogger about childlessness, I sometimes feel that every book on the subject is basically the same, but Kaufmann’s book offers a refreshing new take on the subject. She gives equal space to both the childless by the choice and the childless by chance and does not linger on the baby/no baby choice, but dives right into what it’s like when you don’t have children in a world where four out of five women do. Skillfully blending her own experiences with those of other women plus considerable research, she tackles the realities, including work conflicts, loving other people’s children, the increased risk for cancer among women who have never given birth, how to manage growing old alone, and how to answer nosy questions about why we don’t have children. Without bogging down in facts, Kaufmann offers so much information I want to keep this book close as a reference and present copies to all those parent-people who just don’t understand.
The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story: Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate by Melanie Holmes, published by CreateSpace, 2014. I started out feeling that everyone who reads my Childless by Marriage blog must read this book. Now I’m not so sure. Holmes, who has three children, gives convincing testimony that motherhood is hard and that women who don’t want to do it should not feel that having children is mandatory. She writes about the difficulties of being a mother, including the lack of personal time and space, the financial cost, and the opportunities lost while providing full-time care. She offers clear information on birth control and questions women should ask themselves before considering motherhood. All good, but toward the end, the writing becomes stridently feminist and strongly in favor of the “childfree” option. Holmes barely mentions the situation of women who want to have children but can’t because of fertility problems or lack of a suitable partner. This is a big omission in my opinion. The Female Assumption contains a great deal of useful information. Read what you need, skim what you don’t.
The Pregnant Pause by Jane Doucet, published by All My Words, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2017. Does she want to have a baby? As her 37th birthday approaches that’s what Rose keeps asking herself. She loves children, but also loves her job. She and her husband don’t have much money, and he won’t commit until she’s sure one way or the other. He feels no pressure. He will still be fertile for many more years. Plus he’s not getting harassed by parents, co-workers and even strangers who want to know why she hasn’t reproduced yet. Nor is he the one to whom his mother gave a book of baby names for Christmas.
Readers of this blog and my Childless by marriage book will recognize many of the situations Rose faces–the clueless remarks, the friends obsessed with their offspring, the fear of waiting too long, the spouse who won’t commit to parenthood, the wondering if you’re not cut out for motherhood.
This self-published book by a long-time Canadian journalist could have benefited from another run through the copy editor to deal with tense inconsistencies and typos and add more life to the wooden dialogue. Much of the humor fell flat for me, but bravo to Doucet for offering a novel in which children are not guaranteed.
Motherhood–Is It for Me? by Denise M. Carlini and Ann Davidman, Transformation Press, 2016. Are you trying to figure out the answer to this question? Join the club. This book offers a series of exercises to help readers decide how they really feel about having children.
Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh, WW Norton & Co., 2016. This book was sent to me to review. If you’re considering fertility treatment, you might want to read it. Or you might not because it could scare you out of it. When they can’t get pregnant the usual way, novelist Julia Leigh and her husband resort to science. When their marriage fails, she continues alone with sperm donated by a friend. She is already in her 40s, and the odds are not great. Hormone injections, freezing eggs, embryo transfers—none of it seems to work. How long can she support her dream of having a child? Reading this book confirms my personal belief that success is rare and it’s not worth the misery. Leigh, an accomplished novelist and screenwriter, is very clear about the odds—not great—and the treatments—not fun. But it is a gripping story, easy to read in a day or so.
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum, 2015. 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 want children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the Mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These authors 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. Read it.
The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness by Eliot Jager, The Toby Press, 2015. This memoir emphasizes Jager’s complicated relationship with his father and his struggle with being a childless Jewish man. Jager and his wife could not conceive. Fertility treatments failed. They did not want to adopt. Meanwhile, his religion told him a man was not complete without children. In addition to his own experiences, he shares conversations with other childless Jewish men and offers the scriptural view of childlessness. I would have liked him to talk more about his personal struggles with not having children, but the narrative kept veering back to his father. It is also mired in footnotes and Hebrew words. Still, it’s an interesting read.
Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream by Marcia Drut-Davis, 2013. I didn’t expect to like this book with its “childfree” point of view, but I loved it. I met Drut-Davis and heard her speak at the 2017 NotMom Summit. She was warm, smart and funny. But she never wanted children and I did. However, nothing—except a zebra—is ever completely black and white. When she announced her decision to not have kids on national television in 1974, her family was shocked, and people she didn’t even know attacked her “selfish” decision. She lost her job as a teacher. When she gave talks, people picketed in protest. Yet she and her husband stood firm. They were not having children. Not giving birth does not mean she never experienced anything like motherhood. She acquired two stepdaughters, with whom she had a rocky relationship. Some of her students have become lifelong friends. She adores her nieces and nephews. And there have been moments when she doubted her decision. In her book, she is open, honest and clear. The pages fly by. I found myself nodding and pointing to the words, saying, “Yes! that’s how it was for me, too.” Even if you have 10 kids and wouldn’t change a thing, I believe you’d enjoy this book. It’s a good story, and you might learn a few things.
Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies by Miriam Zoll, Interlink Publishing Group, 2013. Like many modern women, Miriam Zoll wanted to get her career well-established before she had children. She thought she had plenty of time. Finally married and pushing 40, she was ready. When the natural way didn’t work, she went to a fertility specialist. She soon learned that fertility assistance treatments such as in-vitro fertilization and using donor eggs were not the guaranteed route to parenthood most people believed. This memoir takes us on her harrowing journey to become a mother, trying every possible way. As it tells her story, this book also serves as a warning to anyone who thinks technology will lead to pregnancy. Not only is the success rate depressingly low, but no one knows yet what the long-term effects will be. This book, a little long but well-written, successfully blends memoir and research and should be required reading for anyone considering procreation after age 35.
The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World, by Laura Carroll, http://livetruebooks.com, 2012: Carroll, who previously published Families of Two, about couples living happily childfree, has put together an absolute encyclopedia about why the “pronatalist” viewpoint that tells us that everyone should have children is no longer valid. Although I disagree with some of her points, I have to admire this well-written and deeply researched book. Carroll challenges common assumptions such as the idea that people need children to be fulfilled, mature, happy, and cared for in their old age. Furthermore, she says parenting should be a privilege for which people must prove they are qualified. And, people should be rewarded for not having kids instead of getting tax breaks for having them. Maybe, maybe not, but there is so much information here. Want to know how many childless women there are in Finland? It’s here. Want to know what sociology texts tell college students about marriage and children? It’s here. If you’re interested in the subject of having or not having children, read this.
Kidfree & Lovin’ It! by Kaye D. Walters, Serena Bay Publishing, 2012. This is yet another book glorifying the childfree life. It is extremely well done, full of solid information and great resources, including an extensive list of famous non-parents and lists of places for the childfree to find other childfree people. Walters spent years surveying thousands of childfree people and includes lots of quotes from people who don’t have children, nearly all by choice. This is the most thorough book that I have seen on the subject. But I had a hard time reading it. The overarching message seems to be that only fools procreate. Parenting is too expensive, messes up your careers and your relationships, and, most important, you have to sacrifice your freedom. Certainly Walters offers a few words here and there noting that if you feel that parenting is right for you, then go for it. But those passages are overwhelmed by pages and pages of why parenting sucks and why children are undesirable. Also, if you and your mate disagree, then compromise is impossible; you have to break up. If you are childless by choice, you will love this book. If you’re on the fence, you may decide after reading this that you don’t want children after all. But if you want children or wanted them and couldn’t have them, I bet you won’t make it through the whole book.
Being Fruitful Without Multiplying by Patricia Yvette, Renee Ann, Janice Lynne and others, Seattle: Coffeetown Press, 2012. This is an anthology of stories from women who have chosen not to have children. Many have known since they were very young that they did not want to be parents. Their reasons vary, including bad childhoods, having to raise their siblings, infertility, preferring to focus on their careers, and just enjoying life without children. It’s an interesting look at the many ways people make this decision and present it to the world.
Childless: Reflections on Life’s Longing for Itself by Gillian Guthrie, Australia: Short Stop Press, 2012. This is a marvelous book that covers a vast range of topics related to women who never have children. Guthrie spent many years working in television news before tackling this book that is close to her heart. Married twice to men with problems, she didn’t find a man who would be a suitable father until she was at the end of her fertility and was not able to conceive. To produce this book, she conducted extensive research and called together childless women to meet for Childfree Lunches and talk about things they had never talked about before. The resulting book is beautifully written, nicely weaving Guthrie’s own story into the overall picture of childlessness in Australia and the rest of the world. Currently one in four women are childless in her country. Chapters introduce us to all sorts of women without children and how they happened to be that way. Guthrie writes about gay women, women in politics who have been lambasted for not having children, women who grew up with abusive and/or mentally ill parents, women who suffered through legal and illegal abortions, the grief of childlessness and so much more.
Silent Sorority: A Barren Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, self-published 2009, Kindle version Nov. 2011. This is a story about infertility and its effects on a couple’s life. Like so many people, Mahoney assumed that when the time was right, she would conceive as easily as most of her friends and family had. But it didn’t happen. She takes us through her decade-long struggle to get pregnant, which ended after their second attempt at in vitro fertilization failed. That’s about halfway through the book. After that, she shares her grief and depression, anger, and attempts to find other “infertiles” like her. Eventually, she found a sisterhood with her blog, www.coming2terms.com, and then this book. Those of us who are not infertile, just childless by marriage or circumstance or even choice, might wonder why we should read this book, but it’s well-told story that carries the reader along and it gives an excellent picture of what it’s like not to have children in a world where no one else seems to understand what you’re going through. Visit Pamela’s website and blog at http://www.silentsorority.com.
I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood by Lisa Manterfield, Steel Rose Press, 2010. This memoir includes all phases of childlessness. Manterfield writes about being childless by marriage, childless due to infertility, and finally childless by choice. First husband Mark didn’t want to have children. Second husband Jose was older, already had children and had had a vasectomy, but he was willing to do whatever it took to have a baby with Lisa. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work. This book is well-written, well-researched and suspenseful enough to hold the reader from beginning to end. It’s a welcome addition to the literature of childlessness. Manterfield blogs at http://lisamanterfield.com/blog.
Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice by Laura S. Scott, Berkeley: Seal Press, 2009. Scott has made childlessness by choice her mission in life. She founded the Childless by Choice Project and conducted extensive surveys and interviews to present a clear picture of the decision to remain voluntarily childless and its ramifications. Although a tad bit didactic–we don’t all care about the statistical details that she seems to labor so hard over, this is a well-researched and sympathetic book. She offers sound advice for those who have not yet made the decision of whether or not to have children. She also offers extensive information and resources, including books, groups and websites. Overall, Scott’s view is that we need to learn to accept each other, no matter what our choices are regarding parenthood, and this book is a good step in that direction. Visit www.childlessbychoiceproject.com and Scott’s related blog, www.childlessbychoiceproject.blogspot.com.
Swimming, a novel by Enza Gandolfo, Victoria, Australia, Vanark Press, 2009. Kate didn’t think she wanted children, but in her 30s, she changed her mind. Her husband Tom, a sculptor, didn’t care much for kids but was willing to go along to make her happy. Unfortunately, her body didn’t cooperate. After four miscarriages, as she moved into perimenopause, she gave up trying. This is one of the few novels I have read that deals realistically with the pain of childlessness. Childless readers will recognize the obnoxious questions people ask and the left-out feeling as one’s friends devote themselves to their children. Kate also suffers through a divorce and struggles to find her place in the world. If she is not a mother, what is her role? The novel threads two stories, Kate as she is now and the novel she is supposedly writing about the story of the child she might have had. The latter tells us the story of her life, and I honestly disliked the breaks where she dithered over her writing project, but the stories come together in the end, and it did turn out to be a very engaging novel with characters so true I halfway expect to meet them on the street.
Beyond Childlessness: For Every Woman Who Ever Wanted to Have a Child – and Didn’t by Rachel Black and Louise Scull, Rodale International Ltd, 2005. I haven’t read this book, but from the reviews, it looks like a great comfort to women struggling with childlessness. Black and Scull, both childless, combine their own stories with those of other women to offer practical advice for coping with the grief, the questions, and the arguments that arise in childless relationships. They discuss infertility and adoption, as well as husbands who don’t want children.
Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids, Lynne Van Luven and Bruce Gillespie, editors, TouchWood Editions, 2008. This sequel to Nobody’s Mother gives the guys’ side of the story. Men seem to be much more matter-of-fact about things like childlessness, and it shows here. They have come to be childless in a variety of ways, including their wives’ miscarriages and abortions, not wanting kids, and simply not getting around to thinking about it until they believed they were too old. The most touching essay comes from a man who was a father, but lost his teenage son to cancer. These essays are well-written and thoughtful. They also respect parents and women who want to have babies. Many of the men love children and treasure the role of favorite uncle. I think the editors and authors have done a good job.
Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids, Lynne Van Luven, editor, Touchwood Editions, 2006. This Canadian anthology by various childless women is fabulous. Excellent writing, honesty and freshness set this book apart from the many other tomes on childlessness and make it not just a one-subject collection but an outstanding work of creative nonfiction. The writers have come to be childless through infertility, marrying men who didn’t want children, by waiting too long, or by straightforward choice. All of them have given great thought to their situation. What I like most is that there is no disapproval of others’ choices, no dismissing mothers as “breeders” or childless women as “selfish.” In fact, many of the women love children and have found that their childless state allows them to spread their mothering wherever it is needed.
What, No Baby? by Leslie Cannold, Curtain University Books, 2005. Australian author Cannold looks at the issue of “circumstantial childlessness” in Australia and the United States, focusing on societal causes, the family-work conflict, and the difficulty in finding men who are willing to father. This is a good book. Although perhaps the author repeats herself a bit too much, she has thoroughly researched her topic and writes in an easy-reading style. Her main thesis is that the way our societies currently operate makes it difficult for both men and women to consider parenting during the years when a woman is most fertile. Women who are childless by circumstance are NOT childless by choice, she emphasizes. Changes need to be made in order for motherhood to be as available and respected a choice as choosing not to mother. This book takes a while to read, but it’s worth it. It opens up a whole new perspective and makes the reader think hard about why we want to be mothers, or why we don’t.
The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter by Katherine Ellison, Basic Books, 2005. Although many people think motherhood turns the brain to mush, science is proving it’s just the opposite. The rush of hormones, combined with the demands of caring for the young actually have been shown to cause permanent positive changes in the brain. Moms are smarter, better at multi-tasking, and more empathetic. Parenting sharpens their senses and their memories. Drawing on countless studies and an impressive array of sources, Ellison has written a fascinating book explaining how mothers’ brains change with pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. It gets a little scientific for the average reader at times, and Ellison strays off the topic in the final chapters to discuss problems mothers face in society, such as lack of childcare and inflexible work schedules, but overall, she has done a great job. The notes and bibliography are extremely helpful for anyone wanting to follow up on the subject.
I Want A Baby, He Doesn’t by Donna Wade, with Liberty Kovacas, Ph.D., M.F.T. Adams Media, 2005. Well, judging by the title, I felt my own book had been completely “scooped,” but no, this book is different. It is essentially a how-to for couples trying to reach agreement on the issue of having children. In fact her message could be summed up in three words: Talk about it.” She gives guidance for how to discuss this touchy topic and urges couples to seek counseling if they have trouble talking it through on their own. Husband and wife will not be happy until they both buy into their decision, she believes. She offers good information on counseling, vasectomies and tubal ligations, infertility treatments, and adoption, plus excellent resource lists and a questionnaire to help couples determine whether they are ready to be parents.
I Will Bear This Scar: Poems of Childless Women, edited by Marietta W. Bratton, iUniverse, 2005. This is a wonderful collection of poetry by childless women. I started circling the page numbers of the ones I liked and I ended up circling almost all of them. Here we have women who have had miscarriages, who could not conceive, who chose to be childless, who had abortions, or who otherwise missed their chance. Here’s the ending of one I circled with an exclamation point, “Angela” by Robens Napolitan: “I never held her, or heard her call me ‘Mommy,’/ but I was a mother once, until the blood/ran down my legs and she was gone.” I liked the sassiness of “But What Will You Do?” by Peggy Lin Duthie, which talks about how she’ll live happily when she’s old and alone “strolling plump and naked” through her apartment full of “ancient books and beautiful, breakable vases.” Some of the poems are painful to read, but even those offer comfort to those of us missing the children we never had.
Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest For Children by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Miramax Books, 2002. This book has one main point and it’s a good one: In the 21st century, women can choose to pursue any career they want, but they will find it hard to be mothers at the same time. Some women are forced to abandon their careers in order to raise their families while others who wanted children sacrifice motherhood for their careers. Many in the middle fight a never-ending battle to juggle work and family. Hewlett has surveyed a large number of women and thoroughly researched her subject. She also tells us the facts about fertility, stressing the reality that very few women over 40 will conceive and bear healthy babies, in spite of all the new reproductive technology. Those who postpone motherhood are likely to be disappointed. Women who want babies need to find a mate and get pregnant before they turn 35, or it’s not going to happen.
Cheerfully Childless: The Humor Book for Those Who Hesitate to Procreate by Ellen Metter and Loretta Gomez, Browser Press, 2001. This is a fun little book full of cartoons and jokes about childlessness, based on the premise that some of us are just not cut out to be moms and dads, so we might as well admit it and laugh about it. For example, “When offered the coveted opportunity to hold a newborn, I casually smile, nod, and back away . . . until I’m in the next building.” Or “You think grabbing a condom kills the romantic moment? How about a two-year-old bursting into your bedroom unannounced? Now if that doesn’t wilt your flower I just don’t know what will.” Or “Not everyone is, well, destined to be a parent. As my 40-ish friend Tobey says, ‘I think a pregnancy at my time of life would be life-threatening–to the father.’ ” There are lots of fun cartoons by Loretta Gomez. Some compare the virtues of dogs, cats, cars, and stuffed animals to babies. There’s really no serious information here, but it’s fun and it’s quick. Finally, something light on this heavy subject.
The Childless Revolution: What It Means to Be Childless Today by Madelyn Cain, DCA, Inc., Kindle version 2013. Cain has written a well-organized, thoroughly researched study of childlessness in the 21st century. It truly is a revolution as we move toward a society in which a large percentage of women never have children. The book is divided into three main sections for different types of childlessness: 1) by choice–don’t want kids, religious choice, environmental concerns; 2) by chance–illness, infertility, being gay; and 3) by chance, the rest of us who somehow planned to have kids but married guys who didn’t want them or somehow got involved in other things and let the opportunity pass us by. I like the clean, clear way this book is organized and written, and I appreciate the thorough notes and bibliography.
The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless by Elinor Burkett, The Free Press, 2000. Burkett says the mommies get all the good stuff–tax breaks, time off, tuition help, and the adoration of all civilization–while the childless among us are treated like dirt. They don’t get the extra benefits, and they do get to take over the work left undone while the moms are off chauffeuring their kids to soccer practice. Although somewhat bitter and one-sided, this is a well-researched and well-written book. I can’t quite buy Burkett’s view that childless women have become an oppressed minority akin to blacks, gays and the handicapped, but she makes some good points, notably that in most people’s minds, woman equals mother.
Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness, edited by Rochelle Ratner, The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 2000. This anthology is a mixed bag of prose and poetry. Some pieces touch directly on childlessness, such as Mary Mackey’s “This is a Question I Do Not Answer” and “Jodi Sh. Doff’s “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Off.” Other writers speak of the loss of children they had or hoped to have. Diane DiPrima’s brief poem “I Get My Period, September 1964” is a powerful statement. In “In the Garden,” Grace Paley writes of a mother whose children have been kidnapped. Others take varying slants on the subject, including Margaret Atwood’s eerie “Hairball,” about the ovarian tumor she had removed and kept as if it were a child, Nikki Dillon’s light-hearted “Chick Without Children: The Latest Celebrity Interview,” and Bell Hook’s and May Sarton’s journal musings on the incompatibility of motherhood with art.
Families of Two by Laura Carroll, Xlibris, 2000. Carroll has published a collection of interviews with couples who have chosen not to have children and are happy with that choice. As she says in her introduction, these couples value their freedom and independence and believe that the responsibilities of parenting would severely limit their lives. Put simply, children didn’t fit into their lifestyle. This book is important because it exemplifies an increasingly popular point of view, one that is driving the birth rate downward. However, the 15 couples all look and sound alike. If Carroll could have found more diverse people to interview, she might have made her point more effectively.
The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It by Susan Maushart, Penguin, 2000. Motherhood is really hard. That’s the message Maushart offers, unveiling a conspiracy of silence that keeps the truth about motherhood under wraps. She pulls the covers off morning sickness, depression, loss of identity, exhaustion and frustration. Read it along with I’m Okay, You’re a Brat to get a full dose of this side of the story.
I’m Okay, You’re a Brat!: Setting the Priorities Straight and Freeing You From the Guilt and Mad Myths of Parenthood
by Susan Jeffers, Renaissance Books, 1999. All the verbiage about motherhood being fulfilling, miraculous and an experience one should not miss is a crock, according to Jeffers. Giving birth is life-changing but not necessarily in a good way. Jeffers’ book debunks the happy myths of mothering and tells what it’s really like. She challenges readers with a 10-point test to determine whether they’re really ready for parenthood. Women who read it are likely to run screaming to their gynecologists for contraceptives. In the end, her message is two-fold: If you’re a parent and hate it or if you have chosen not to have children, it’s all right. And, it is okay to love your children, but hate taking of them. Jeffers’ philosophy is that whatever happens is what is supposed to happen, but it isn’t fair to keep the dark side of parenting a secret from those who are thinking about having children.
The Parenthood Decision by Beverly Engel, Main Street Books, 1998. This covers the same territory as Dell’s book, but more thoroughly, really digging into questions about why women want to have children, the sacrifices required of mothers, and whether the timing is right. She offers a self-help guide for deciding whether or not to procreate.
Pride And Joy: The Lives And Passions Of Women Without Children by Terri Casey, Beyond Words Publishing, 1998. This is a nice anthology. Politicians, teachers, artists, executives and others show how one can have a full life and contribute a great deal to society without having children. It especially appeals to women who are certain they never want children and are looking for support in their decision.
Wanting a Child, edited by Jill Bialosky and Helene Schulman, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998. This is a wonderful anthology of writers describing their experiences with childlessness, adoption, infertility, stepparenting, etc. There are beautiful, poignant stories here, including enlightening chapters on grief, stepparenting and adoption. Anyone interested in the topic of childlessness will want to read this book.
Paradise, Piece by Piece by Molly Peacock, Riverhead Books, 1998. Peacock, who is known for her poetry, ventures into prose in this book to explain what she says in her first sentence and how it has played out in her life. She says she decided at age 3 that she would never have children, and she didn’t. It’s the memoir of a childless woman, but it is so much more. This is a wonderful story of survival, love and reality. Peacock’s father was abusive, her mother escaped into her work, and young Molly was left to take over the mother role for her father and her little sister Gail. It was a tough beginning, but as the book proceeds, she really does work it out piece by piece. The writing is beautiful, the story as gripping as any work of fiction. And yes, there are some valuable insights into the decision to live without children.
Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness by Laurie Lisle, Ballantine Books, 1996. Lisle looks at how “barren” women have been viewed throughout history. Her focus is on women who are “willingly childfree” as opposed to “inadvertently childless.” Lisle has done her homework and covered the most important issues, but it relies mostly on hearsay and secondary sources.
Why Don’t You Have Kids?: Living a Full Life Without Parenthood by Leslie Lafayette, Kensington Publishing Corp., 1995. Lafayette is the founder of the ChildFree Network. Her one-sided book pushes the group’s message, which is that it’s okay to choose not to have children. In fact, for most of the people she quotes, being “childfree” is wonderful, the best decision they ever made. In addition to interviewing lots of happily childfree women, she talks in considerable detail to men who don’t want children.
Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness by Elaine Tyler May, Harvard University Press, 1995. May has written a very interesting overview of childlessness in America throughout history. She writes in an academic style that makes for slower reading, but it’s worth the effort. Her chapters on how childlessness was viewed before the 20th Century, the rise of eugenics–selective sterilization of people considered inferior–and the craze to procreate during the baby boom are fascinating. May brings us up to date with the “childfree” movement, new reproductive technology for the infertile, and the tendency to delay parenting until later in life.
Unwomanly Conduct: The Challenges of Intentional Childlessness by Carolyn M. Morell, Routledge, 1994. This book, based on interviews with women over age 40, emphasizes the reasons for deciding to remain childless. One reader calls it “an affirmation for the child-free woman.” That pretty much says it. This age group, now all over 60, decided to be childless at a time when they faced considerably more prejudice than young women making that decision today.
Dear Barbara, Dear Lynne: The True Story of Two Women in Search of Motherhood by Barbara Shulgold and Lynne Sipiora, Addision-Wesley, 1992. For a while, this was THE book to read on childlessness, but now it’s dated and out of print. The book contains three-years of letters between two infertile women. It is an engaging, heartfelt story with a happy ending. The letters talk about fertility treatments, failed adoption attempts, and other efforts to become mothers. Like many of the books on childlessness from a decade or two ago, the emphasis is on the tragedy of being unable to conceive and the need to be a mother no matter what it takes.
Childless by Choice: A Feminist Anthology edited by Irene Reti, HerBooks, 1992. Many childless women, including me, consider themselves feminists, but the emphasis here is on choosing not to mother and defending that choice. Stories and poems address female stereotypes, abortion, the danger of overpopulation, grief over losing a child, and the need for freedom to follow one’s muse. Childless by Choice’s offerings are often beautiful, poignant and heartbreaking, but its overall mission is to conquer the stereotype of the cold, selfish childless woman. It is well-written and interesting.
Never to Be a Mother: A Guide for All Women Who Didn’t, or Couldn’t, Have Children by Linda Hunt Anton, HarperCollins, 1992. This is basically a psychological self-help book. It offers 10 steps for dealing with childlessness. The focus is on grieving and gradually accepting the loss of the children one will never have. It may be hard to find, but will be helpful to women dealing with the loss of the children they’ll never have.
Copyright 2019 Sue Fagalde Lick