If I had Only Known
Fred was the kind of man every parent hopes her daughter will marry–kind, loving, handsome and gainfully employed. To me, after one failed marriage and several unsuccessful relationships, he seemed like a gift from heaven. It didn’t matter that he had three grown children from his first marriage, that he wasn’t Catholic, or that he was 15 years older than I was. I had sampled the marketplace and knew he was a keeper.
On a camping trip near Yosemite, we were walking along a pine-needle-covered path from our cabin to the amphitheater where some of the other campers were putting on a show. After a hot day, a soft breeze had cooled the air. Stellar’s jays squawked to each other overhead, and from far away we could hear the voices of children playing ball.
Fred had been quiet for a while. Now he cleared his throat. “I really don’t want to have any more children,” he said.
My throat went dry. “You don’t?”
“Not really. I’m sorry.”
I don’t know why I didn’t stop right there and say something like, “Hey, if you want me, you had better want my children,” but I didn’t. We just kept walking. Perhaps I had lived so long without kids, they never seemed real to me. Before I met Fred, I had given up on getting married again. Perhaps I figured that it was better to have Fred without children than to have no one. As the nerd girl who didn’t date until she was in college and then only the loser guys, perhaps I feared that if I didn’t marry Fred, nobody else would come along and I’d be alone forever. More likely, knowing that my first reaction to bad news is always denial, I simply assumed he would change his mind.
Still, the news tore a hole in the perfect bubble I had placed around our relationship. I don’t remember much about the evening’s songs and jokes. All I could think of that night was Fred’s announcement. He wanted to be my husband but not the father of my children. Did I love him enough to accept his decision? Would he change his mind in a year or two?
The thing that really hurts is that I did it twice. Fred was not the first husband who didn’t want children. And I had no idea what was coming after I had committed my life to this man.
The book continues with the story of how I ended up childless and how it has affected my whole life. Chapters include “Who Knew It was a Sin?” “Chatty Cathy’s Mother,” “Can a Woman Be a Dog’s Mom?” “Mothering My Husband” and “I’m Gonna Be a Bag Lady.” I interweave my experiences with those of other women and lots of research. The goal is to show what it’s like to choose a man over motherhood.
Thousands of people have responded to my web site and my Childless by Marriage blog. At a recent reading, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by men who praised my honesty on a subject they are afraid to discuss with their childless friends and admitted that they had never realized how it might feel to be a childless woman. People are clearly interested.
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