Here Comes Christmas, COVID-Style

I stood in line at the tiny South Beach post office yesterday to mail the last of my family Christmas gifts to California. The postmaster, working with her daughter and her baby granddaughter beside her, was exhausted. Far more people are mailing packages because, like me, they are not going to be with their families this year.

As the song goes, I’ll be home for Christmas. I’ll spend the day with the same friend who got me through Thanksgiving. We don’t want to cook this time. We’d go out, but COVID-19 has closed all the restaurants to indoor dining and we’re not going to eat in the rain. So we’ll get something to go or prepare something simple, exchange our gifts, and watch a movie. She has kids, but they’re far away. This will be her first Christmas since her husband died and her last one here in Oregon because she’s moving to California to be near her daughter. But this year, it will be us and Pandora the cat or Annie the dog—we haven’t decided which house we’ll be at yet.  

I will not watch my nieces and nephews and their children open the boxes from me to see if they love what I bought them as much as I do. The little ones probably won’t understand who I am. Since I was last able to see them, over a year ago, they have changed tremendously. They have learned to walk, talk and start to read. This makes me sad because I wasn’t there, but not nearly as sad as I might be if they were my grandchildren.

A friend from my church has never seen her grandbaby who was born in March. Some friends have taken the risk to visit their families and returned COVID-free, but that’s not how it always goes. I know too many people suffering from the virus, some in the hospital on ventilators. Where perhaps in normal times, their families would keep vigil at their bedsides, no one is allowed in. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have children now; you die with only hospital staff to hold your hand.

On a recent SheSpeaks podcast, Savvy Auntie founder Melanie Notkin reminded listeners of the importance of attitude. “Life is a struggle. It’s what you do with it.” So, she says, decide what you want to do with the life you have, not the one you didn’t have, and figure out the steps to move that life forward.

Meanwhile, send out your presents and be grateful for whatever you receive. If you are well enough to visit via Zoom or Skype, have fun with it. Feel free to wear funny hats, dress up the cats and dogs, or make a silly video. Be glad you don’t have to spend great swaths of time this year hanging out with relatives who are all about the children and don’t understand or sympathize with your situation. Just do the holiday your way. Zoom-watch church services from all over the world. Make burritos instead of cooking a turkey. Stay in bed all day or play in the snow. Watch an entire season of “The Crown” in one sitting.  

COVID is horrible. Our little coastal county has just been moved up to the “extreme risk” category. I know too many people with the virus, two of them in the hospital on ventilators. Little children like my great nieces and nephew will not remember a world in which big people didn’t wear masks. If we are alive and well, we must give thanks and enjoy the life we have been given, even if we never get the children we wanted to have.

*****************

It’s here! Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been published. After seven months and several title changes, I have gathered the best of the Childless by Marriage blog from 2007 to May 2020 into a book. If I had had any idea how difficult it would be to boil down more than 700 posts into a reasonable-sized paperback and ebook, I might not have done it. I mean, it’s there on the blog. You can read all the posts and the comments. It might take months, but you can. But what if the Internet disappears? It could, you know, and we have built something here worth saving. Sure, I started it, and I write the weekly posts, but it would be nothing without your comments. That’s why the cover says this book is by “Sue Fagalde Lick & Anonymous.”

During the month of December, if you email me proof of purchase for Love or Children along with your address to suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of my previous book, Childless by Marriage, absolutely free, paperback in the U.S., Kindle overseas. If you already have Childless by Marriage, you can give it to a friend or I can send you one of my other books. See https://www.suelick.com/books for other possibilities.

Announcing ‘Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both’

I’m holding the proof copy, but you can buy the newly published book right now .

It’s here! Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been published. After seven months and several title changes, I have gathered the best of the Childless by Marriage blog from 2007 to May 2020 into a book. If I had had any idea how difficult it would be to boil down more than 700 posts into a reasonable-sized paperback and ebook, I might not have done it. I mean, it’s there on the blog. You can read all the posts and the comments. It might take months, but you can. But what if the Internet disappears? It could, you know, and we have built something here worth saving. Sure, I started it, and I write the weekly posts, but it would be nothing without your comments. That’s why the cover says this book is by “Sue Fagalde Lick & Anonymous.”

Coming up with a cover was tricky. How do you express the idea of being childless by marriage in a picture? We tried a lot of different images, children’s toys and flowers and such, but I like what we wound up with. It was originally sort of a brick red. We played around with the shade, but then I suddenly thought, “Hey, what about teal?

The designer, Erin, who works for an outfit called Reedsy.com, did a great job designing the cover and the interior. I’m sure she earned a few gray hairs dealing with the more than 300 live links in the Kindle version. She worked all last weekend on them and didn’t get much sleep. But she found the subject interesting, so that helps. At 35, she and her husband are talking about whether or not to have kids.

What’s in the book? Let me share the table of contents.

Introduction

  • When Your Partner Will Not Give You Children
  •  Stay or Go: What Should I Do?
  •  Parenthood Delayed
  • Baby Lust
  •  How Do You Heal from Childless Grief?
  •  Learning to Accept Childlessness
  •  Childless vs. Childfree
  • Locked Out of the Mom Club
  • Male Point of View
  •  I Can’t Believe They Said That
  •   Do the Childless Get Ripped Off at Work?
  •   If You Don’t Have Children, You Will Never . . .
  •   Where Does God Fit?
  •   The Joys of Stepparenting
  •   Not the Life I Expected
  •   Old Age without Children
  •   What Will Be Our Legacy?
  •   Childlessness Didn’t Stop Them

See anything of interest? I thought you might.

I need your help spreading the word about this book. If you want to write a review, let me know, and I’ll send you a PDF copy. Or you can buy the Kindle version for $2.99. Review it at Amazon, Goodreads, on your blog, or wherever. If each reader tells a friend, sales will go well. It is so important that people read and start to understand our situation.

I will do my part by broadcasting the news wherever I can.

Meanwhile, for you, my dear readers, I offer a deal. As you know, Love or Children is my second book on the subject. During the month of December, if you email me proof of purchase for Love or Children along with your address to suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of Childless by Marriage absolutely free, paperback in the U.S., Kindle overseas. If you already have Childless by Marriage, you can give it to a friend or I can send you one of my other books. See https://www.suelick.com/books for other possibilities.

Remember, the conversation continues here at the Childless by Marriage blog. This is post #726, and I have no plans to stop. New readers keep joining, and comments keep coming in. Also, I’m still accepting guest posts. See the guidelines on this page. We have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Take a minute to “like” it.

Thank you all for making this happen.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

It’s All About Eggs and Expiration Dates

You know how the egg cartons from the grocery store have expiration dates stamped on them? Living alone, it takes me a while to use a dozen eggs. I usually ignore the dates and keep using the eggs until they’re gone. If it’s really getting dicey, I’ll hard-boil them for sandwiches because I don’t want them to spoil. Eggs cost money, and, judging by the noises my neighbor’s chickens make, they aren’t easy to lay.

But I’m not talking about chicken eggs today; we have to talk about our own eggs, the ones we women produce in our ovaries, the ones that occasionally hook up with our partner’s sperm and make babies. I’ve said it here before and you don’t want to hear it again, but our eggs have expiration dates, too. Sometimes you can stretch things out a bit, but the time will come when if you don’t use them right now, they’ll be no good.

A recent Radiant Menopause podcast made the human egg situation very clear. In a Nov. 23 interview titled “OMG, I forgot to have a baby,” Joyce Harper, a professor of reproductive science at London’s Institute for Women’s Health, gave us the depressing facts on eggs and fertility.

Harper spoke from experience. When she was 28, she was ready to have children, but her husband was not. After they split when she was 32, she got into a relationship with another man who was also not ready. At 35, with a new guy who was ready, they started trying for a baby, but nothing happened.  Tests and IVF followed. Just before her 40th birthday, she gave birth to a son. They wanted more children and had twin boys via frozen embryo transfer two years later. Easy, you think? No. Harper did get her children but it took seven years of high-tech trying at great financial and emotional cost. The trauma of all those years when she couldn’t have a child will never go away, she said.

Fertility does not wait for us to be ready, warned Harper. She is on a crusade to make people understand the math. At 35, fertility dives and the chance for miscarriage rises. Most miscarriages happen because something is wrong. The baby wouldn’t survive due to chromosome abnormalities or other problems. The eggs decline in quality as we age, so we’re more likely to miscarry when we’re older. We feel young, but our ovaries act the same way they did a hundred years ago, Harper said.

Gateway Women guru Jody Day wrote on her blog, “Most doctors agree that by the time a woman is 40, her chances of getting pregnant each month are approximately 5 percent.” That’s pretty poor odds.

There are exceptions to every rule, but for most women, conception after 40 will be difficult if not impossible. Menopause may not come for another decade—51 is the average age–but the factory is already shutting down. The age when your mother hit menopause is a good clue as to when you will, Harper said.

Here’s something crazy and seemingly unfair. Men’s fertility only declines slightly with age. Normal ejaculate contains more than 100 million sperm. Women are born with 300,000-400,000 eggs, but by puberty most of them have already died. During a lifetime, we ovulate about 500 eggs; the rest just die and slough away. What was God thinking?  

What can we do if our relationship situation does not allow us to get on with the baby-making before our eggs expire? Harper said more women are using donor sperm every year, but that’s not how most want to have their families. Freezing one’s eggs is a viable option. The ovaries may shut down, but the womb stays quite healthy. As you get older, pregnancy poses more risks, and you have to ask yourself whether you want to have a baby in your late 40s or 50s, but it can be done, just not in the usual way. When we hear about older women having babies, we can assume they had help. They usually have a willing partner, too.

According to an article in the AARP magazine (for people over 50), the majority of 50-plus women who become pregnant use donor eggs fertilized by sperm and implanted into a womb. It’s  expensive, $25,000 to $30,000 for one attempt. You could put a down payment on a house for that. Insurance rarely covers it, and it rarely works the first time. In fact, Day’s post said IVF fails in 77 percent of cases. You cannot count on it. You may go through a lot and still end up childless.

Bottom line? You can’t just let the years go by and hope for a miracle. The eggs won’t wait.  

Big sigh.

Harper has a new book, Your Fertile Years: What You Need to Know to Make Informed Choices, coming out in April 2021. It’s available for pre-order at Amazon.com now.

Feel free to share this post with your partner. Listen to the podcast, buy the book, and make an informed decision.

I know this isn’t a happy story. But with eggs, it’s use them or lose them.

As you think about whether or not you’ll ever have children, do you worry about your age and your eggs? Do men really understand how this works? I welcome your comments.

***

The new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both will be here next week. I will offer the ebook for a ridiculously low price during December so you all can get your copies. All the info will be in next week’s post.

Childless or Not, This Thanksgiving Will Be Different

Annie is not worried about Thanksgiving–as long as I share the turkey with her.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve got a turkey defrosting in the refrigerator, but otherwise nothing is normal about the holiday. I will not be with my family this year. “Aunt Sue” will not see the little ones, not get those wonderful hugs, or hang out sharing family stories. On the other hand, she won’t feel left out because she’s the only one there who doesn’t have kids.

I’ll be spending the day at home with a friend whose husband died a few months ago. She has grown children, but they’re in Connecticut and California, and two of them have COVID. As the number of COVID cases soars, my friend and I will stay in our own two-person bubble and celebrate the best we can. I have no doubt we will argue over everything from from how to make the gravy to which movie to watch after dinner. Just like family. But we won’t be alone, and for that, I’m thankful.

This year, everyone’s holidays will be different, or they should be. Just because your relatives are family doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying the virus. Stay home. Keep it small. The grown children of three of my friends have COVID. One is in the hospital, very serious. Another friend has an eight-month-old grandchild she has not yet been able to meet because she can’t travel to Colorado. It’s tough for all of us, but maybe those of us without children are lucky not to experience that extra pain of separation from our kids.

I didn’t plan to preach, but this is frightening. We have had a huge surge of COVID here in Oregon, including right here where I live. We are in lockdown again. I feel as if we are at war.

At the same time, we have a lot to be thankful for. That we have friends and family to worry about. That this won’t last forever. For our health if we have it. For food and shelter, if we have those. For a chance to discover new ways to connect and to help each other. For our Childless by Marriage community. You are not alone.

I am thankful that the new book, Love or Children, created from these blog posts and your comments, will be out before Christmas. Put it on your wish list.

I will be extremely grateful if that turkey in my fridge is truly defrosted by tomorrow morning. I haven’t had anyone to cook a turkey for in over a decade, so I’m out of practice. The new situation has made it possible for me to finally host a Thanksgiving dinner.

Look at the upside if you possibly can. There is one. How about if we all meet someplace warm and tropical next Thanksgiving? That would be something to look forward to.

You can read more about my Thanksgivings past and present at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

So, tell us about your Thanksgiving. How is it different this year? How is it the same? What are you thankful for?

‘Childless by the Marriage I Love’

Today, we have a guest post by Darinka from Hungary.

“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world.

To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

I like the story of The Little Prince, especially when the Fox tells this to the little boy. Reminds me of the “name it to tame it” approach that can help many times to settle our fears and heavy feelings. I set out for my journey of taming (and naming) my fox (or I could call it my monster) of childlessness three years ago when after seven years of marriage I learned that my husband didn’t want kids.

We live in an Eastern-European country, started our life together with very little means. We moved from one rented place to another, never feeling really settled. We both worked long hours, yet we didn’t feel financially safe enough to start a family. The topic did come up a few times over the years, but we felt the same way, that it was not the time yet.

Three years ago, we finally moved into our own home, which was a huge step for us. Now we were in our perfect little two-bedroom house on the edge of a small village by the woods. We now had the room and financial stability, so just after we moved, I felt it was time. My husband disagreed. We had to face that there are deeper reasons behind us not having kids than just financial ones. We started to go to counseling and found out more about our deeper reasons. My husband had a distant father who spent most of his life in severe depression, in and out of jobs, spending years in almost total silence and withdrawal. My husband was 17 when his youngest brother was born. He was an emotional crutch for his mum for many years, sharing the worries and troubles of his four siblings. So, my question of “Shall we have kids?” did not come to him as a sweet, exciting plan for life, more like another kilometer after a thousand-kilometer-long journey…no, no, not another one. 

A year after this, we decided to go for a puppy. My hopes were raised because I thought this meant we were making progress. We read books on how to bring up a puppy. Watched programs. Equipped the small bedroom, and so we brought home the sweetest black and white greyhound of six weeks. After three days, I sensed something was wrong. After five days, we both knew. My husband showed clear symptoms of burnout. He could not sleep, could not enjoy any of it, felt absolutely exhausted and depressed. He had such a strong physical and emotional reaction to caring for this little newcomer that finally it reached not only my mind but my heart, that this may be more serious than I thought, this may be permanent. We took the puppy back after a week. Cleared all her things. Packed up and went away for a few days because we couldn’t stay in the house. This sweet little puppy found a way to us. Showed my husband that he can’t accept the father within himself, showed me that I may never become a mum. She has opened a channel for my tears and sorrow. I cried for about six months. We shared many feelings, anger, fears, disappointment, hopelessness. But despite of all this (or because of all this), we moved closer to each other; our marriage became stronger.

I wanted to accept my husband’s feelings and decision. I read a lot, searched the web, joined groups, but couldn’t find a name for my monster. I deeply felt for those who struggled with fertility issues, but I didn’t. My brother and his wife were trying for a baby for seven years, my brother-in-law and his wife the same. We couldn’t really share our struggles with them. I couldn’t identify with those who are childfree by choice either. I am definitely not one of them. I felt it was neither my decision nor my medical circumstance, but what was it then?

I am still struggling with feeling the pressure of meeting others’ expectations, some guilt as I believe children are gifts from God. I find it difficult to say no to them, fear for the future. But I also know that the last thing I would want for my kids is for them to be unwanted by one of their parents. I’ve been there, I grew up like this, and I know it’s not a happy place. This is why I can’t follow advice like: just do it, no need to be ready, don’t worry, men usually want children less than women, just say you want it. Well, I can’t.

So, you see, it’s not only my husband; it’s me too. I am being loved and accepted by my husband. I feel it and I let myself enjoy this. I may still not feel wanted (that is too deep a wound to heal quickly), but I already know that I am.

Slowly a name is forming after all: I’m childless by marriage . . . and lately it seems less scary and less painful because I’m childless by not any marriage . . . but the marriage I love.

************************************************************

Thank you, Darinka, for filling in for me this week. I am deep into the final proofreading for the new book, Love or Children, coming very soon.

I you want to contribute a guest post to the Childless by Marriage blog, see the information in the sidebar.

No Kids? She Says, ‘Hit the Road, Jack!’

I received this comment from Amanda yesterday on a post published here in July. It’s so powerful I’m sharing it here so you don’t miss it. I welcome your responses here or at the original post.

Amanda wrote:

I asked my partner if he was on the path to marriage and children. He was my partner of 2 years. I was nearly 31.

He said no and, though I loved him dearly dearly dearly, I ended it instantly. “It’s done,” I said. He vomited and cried. He did not ask to have my back though.

I was one of those women who had an excruciating yearning for a child. At the very innermost place. I cried tens of thousands of tears over the years when friends, sisters and celebrities were pregnant or had small kids. I was green with envy.

I knew I would rather have a sperm donor than a husband if it came down to it.

I then threw myself into dating and talked about having children very very early in dating. Cut, cut, cut if they didn’t want kids.

My now husband ‘sort of’ wanted kids ‘eventually’. I told him there’d be no second DATE if there’d be no kids eventually.

I’m not going to hurt anyone by mentioning if/how many kids we have. Just to say–speak about it frankly and early. Please don’t waste your time “not talking about it” for several months into dating.

Make it a non-negotiable EARLY if it’s THAT important to you.

And really live it. Don’t be swayed into dating ANYONE who says they won’t have kids (if it’s that important to you).

Hope my post wasn’t offensive. Please please have the guts to call time on a relationship if you have that innermost painful yearning for a child.

What do you think? I welcome your comments

*****

Saturday night, with most of America, I watched U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris give their victory speeches before a crowd watching from their cars due to the pandemic. Then their families joined them on stage as fireworks filled the air. Watching them hug each other, I felt that giant emptiness again. Why didn’t I have kids???

But wait. I just did some research. Kamala—I should call her Vice President Harris–has not given birth to her own children. She has two young adult stepchildren, Ella and Cole, offspring of her husband Doug. The other kids were her niece and grand-nieces, whom she obviously adores. So . . . in some ways, she’s one of us.

If you check her out on Wikipedia, the list of her achievements–senator, California Attorney General, criminal prosecutor, activist, children’s book author–is crazy long. She did not marry until six years ago, when she was in her late 40s, so the opportunity to have children slipped away. Harris clearly adores her stepkids, who call her “Momala,” as well as her sister’s children and grandchildren. We all know how difficult stepparenting can be, but she seems to be making it work.

Whatever your political views, you’ve got to give a shout-out for Kamala as the first female VP and for what a childless woman can accomplish.

Interesting reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/11/09/doug-emhoff-kamala-harris-marriage/

Comment, comment, comment. It’s too quiet out here.

New Childless by Marriage Book Coming Soon

Love or children? Why would anyone have to choose? It’s like this giant secret that is right in front of everyone. One in five women and even more men don’t have children—at least not their own. For more than half of them, it was not by choice. Their partners a) never wanted children, b) already had kids from a previous relationship, c) never quite felt ready for parenthood, d) had had a vasectomy, or e) had fertility problems. They are forced to make a choice between this man or woman they love and the children they might have had.

Love or Children, which is in the production phase now and will be out in time for Christmas, features the best of more than 700 posts and comments from the Childless by Marriage blog. Although my name is on the cover, you readers have contributed a great deal to this book, often sharing things you wouldn’t tell anyone in person. Without you, it would be nothing. Don’t worry. I have maintained your anonymity, but your stories will be told.

Chapters look at how one becomes childless by marriage, how to decide whether to stay in a childless relationship or leave, how to deal with the grief that comes with giving up the dream of having children, how to respond to the hurtful things that people say, and lots more.

It’s important that as many people as possible read this book and maybe begin to understand what we’re dealing with. I will need your help spreading the word. I hope to make this fun. There will be swag, giveaways, videos, and more. Stay tuned.

If you haven’t read my previous Childless by Marriage book, order it now and catch up. The ebook is practically free.

*****

The coronavirus madness rages on. How are you all doing? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for those of us without children? I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews in over a year except on Facebook. Have you been able to connect with family, especially the young ones that might fill that childless hole in your life?

At this moment, we still don’t know who has won the U.S. presidential election, but people are about to explode from the stress. However it turns out, we’ll still be here for each other.

I’m still looking for guest posts to the blog. The guidelines are in the sidebar on this page.

Hugs,

Sue

Guest Post: Natascha Hebell Shares Her Story

Readers: In response to my invitation to share stories, I received this piece from Natascha Hebell, PhD, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. Although she’s not exactly childless by marriage, much of what she says applies to all of us.

We were so looking forward to having children! As soon as we got married, we expected to be pregnant right away because we were both young and healthy.

Well, it just never happened…

Disbelief and disappointment month after month, year after year. Hidden tears, suppressed anger, feelings of shame, hurt and envy and feeling utterly alone, unheard and completely invalidated about my feelings of loss, grief and distrust in my body and my life.

I just kept on “counting my blessings” and “getting over it.”

In my early 40s, I had a real midlife crisis. I asked myself: Why am I even here? What is my life’s purpose?

During my infertility journey I discovered acupuncture and I always felt so at peace afterwards. That prompted me to change my career in my 40s. I had a background in scientific research and business development, but I did a complete 180 as far as medical principles are concerned. I was able to graduate and get my national board certification as acupuncturist in record time, and I founded a very successful acupuncture clinic.

I have been able to help many people with their health concerns from a natural and holistic perspective. I love that I am able to share my nurturing and caring nature with my clients.

Looking back, I realized that I was overcompensating for my perceived failure as a wife and mother by being a perfectionist and overachiever.

Once I established my acupuncture practice, I continued further studies in integrative medicine and many different certifications to the point of exhaustion. I had a profound aha moment when I was participating in a “soul-story” exercise. I realized that I had never truly processed my childlessness. I had not allowed myself to grieve, accept and move forward in a healthy way.

I had tucked the grief and despair away. It did not exist for anyone that I knew, and so I subconsciously did not truly acknowledge my emotional pain. And I had done a pretty good job with that because only occasionally would I feel extremely sad and weepy when seeing little children, seeing young families and finding out about my friends and family getting pregnant and celebrating kids’ birthdays.

When I became an acupuncturist, I avoided treating infertility cases and women expecting children. I could just not handle it from an emotional perspective. I would treat women that were getting ready for IVF and especially for treatments before and after the transfer (with a 100% success rate!) and they agreed to see another acupuncturist who specialized in pregnancy and postpartum.

One month, two of my patients came in for their pre-IVF transfer treatments in tears. They said: It is my last chance to get pregnant and I am so anxious. They were sobbing, they were feeling guilty for not having given their parents grandchildren, for letting their partner down; they felt shame because they thought that they hadn’t tried hard enough.

It touched me to the core because I saw how much they were hurting even though they had dedicated months going through the difficult process of IVF treatments and they were exhausted physically, mentally and financially.

This was an important moment for me because I realized that I needed to speak up. It is okay to NOT have children. My life is rich and wonderful, and I have been able to leave a positive impact on so many people’s lives, something that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had children.

So that prompted me to start sharing my story from the perspective of someone who is in her 50s. This has been eye-opening to me. There are so many women, especially in their 50s, 60s and older, who have never been able to share their grief and their story. Also, many younger women who are childless want to hear from my perspective and get some help.

I do hope that I can give inspiration, hope and courage to women whose heart aches because their dream of a child has not been granted in this lifetime. I can be found online at The Golden Sanctuary and a free FB group (Beyond Infertility and Unintended Childlessness)

Thank you, Natascha! As always, readers, your comments are welcome.

No Spouse, No Children–What It’s Really Like

Ward, Donna. She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2020.

Married women without children feel like square pegs in a round world. Now consider those women who have never married, who are single for life, who are that dreaded word, spinsters. As they age, there is no one ahead of them, behind them, or beside them. That’s the subject of Australian author Donna Ward’s book She I Dare Not Name.

Reading this book, I broke all my rules, turning down corners, underlining sentences, and making notes in the margins because she tells so well a story most people don’t know or understand.

Even friends and family come to wrong assumptions about people who never marry or have children: “She doesn’t want a husband or kids.” “There must be something wrong with her.” “She must be gay.” “Lucky her. She’s free to do whatever she wants.” Ward wanted the usual things. It just didn’t happen. Every relationship turned sour, and now she’s in her 60s, single and childless. As so many of us have experienced, her friends moved on to marriage and children, then grandchildren, so she’s often alone. Sound familiar? It sure does to me as a childless widow, but at least I have that validation that I was married.

Most of us are guilty of misunderstanding. I have to admit that when I meet men my age who have never married, I immediately think something’s wrong with them. Of course, I think the same thing if they have been divorced more than once. But that’s not really fair. Maybe they just never had the chance.

Ward and others, male or female, who have never married could be called Childless by Unmarriage. How does this happen? It just does. There’s no guarantee we’re all going to find a partner. I think it’s a miracle that any two people get together and love each other for a lifetime. And yet people assume, until you tell them otherwise, that everyone has a partner and everyone has kids.

“I am suffocated by other people’s impression of my life. I am wizened from explaining myself,” Ward writes. (p. 285)

“I did not choose against children, or against coupling. I do not despise marriage. I did not choose career over marriage. I do not think loneliness within marriage is better or worse than mine. The lack of a partner is not evidence that I want to be alone. Thank you for asking. I am not a lesbian. The lack of children is not evidence that I don’t want, or do not know how to be around, babies, children, teenagers. . . .” She goes on, trying to debunk all the misunderstandings.

Ward is very honest about the challenges of being a single in a world set up for couples and families. Who is her backup when she falls ill or needs care in old age? Who cares about her in that way families do? This quote from p. 307 really struck me:

“It seems a human right, as basic as the right to breathe, that everyone has at least one person dedicated to them, a person who would be so distracted by grief they might not survive their loved one’s passing, yet here I am, personless in this world.”

Yes, personless. Oh my God, that’s it.

I have read that part of the reason one feels lonely is that humans traditionally lived in groups to protect each other. Alone, we feel vulnerable, out in the cold while the rest of society is warm and safe by the fire.

Now, before you call me on it, I know you can have children on your own. In the U.S., 40 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers. But we don’t know how many of those women are choosing to parent without a partner via adoption or sperm donor. Ward never wanted children outside of marriage. Most commenters here have also said they don’t want to do it alone.

I know several people who have never married and never had children. They seem to have good lives, but as Ward points out, we don’t know what it’s really like. Maybe some of you are also lifelong singles. Do you mourn the lack of a mate and children or are you happy with your life? Do you feel like the odd one at every gathering? Would you/have you considered parenting alone? For those who do have partners, what do you think about this? Please comment.

I highly recommend Ward’s book and the many other books she names in her bibliography. Ones I have starred to read include:

Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella Depaulo.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick.   

Enough with All the Happy Talk

Toxic Positivity. Have you heard that term? It’s when people insist you look on the sunny side of things. “Your time will come.” “Don’t worry. You’ll get to have your baby.” “You just need to think positive.” “Look on the bright side.” “At least you have __________.”

So often people who say these things are trying to be helpful, but they are having the opposite effect. They are denying your right to feel however you need to feel. If you appear to be to be sad, angry or hopeless, it makes other people uncomfortable, so they try to put a happy spin on it. You had a miscarriage? You can try again. Your husband doesn’t want kids? He’ll change his mind. You can’t seem to get pregnant? You just need to relax. They make it sound like your negative attitude is to blame for your problems. If you just put on a happy face, everything will work out.

Yeah, sure.

Makes you want to scream, right?

That’s toxic positivity, which was the subject at Katy Seppi’s Chasing Creation podcast earlier this week. Her guests were life coaches Sadie T of Curiously Sadie [@curiously_sadie] and Carrie Hauskens, whose recent blog post on the subject inspired the podcast. I encourage you to read that post.  You’ll be shouting “Yeah!” “I know!” and “Bullshit!” along with her.

“I think it’s exhausting trying to stay positive all the time,” Hauskens said. She tends to be very honest about her infertility journey, which includes a miscarriage and a stillborn daughter. It makes people squirm. Her husband is also straightforward. He notes that the positive commenters have been thinking about this for a few minutes while they’ve been trying to have children for seven years.

“I don’t have to be optimistic,” Hauskens stressed.  

Sadie added that toxic positivity discounts what a person is feeling and what they have gone through. They’re kind of saying “It’s fine. Get over it.”

But grief doesn’t just disappear. It keeps coming back, and we need to talk about it. It’s not healthy to keep it in just to make our uncomfortable friends more comfortable.

The women agreed that in some cases you may need to spend less time with the people who keep spewing platitudes and look for others who understand what you’re going through, other childless people, for example.

So what should people say? It’s fine to just admit you don’t know what to say, Hauskens said. You can say, “I’m here for you” or “What can I do to help?” Just don’t try to correct the person’s feelings.

Just being there is enough, Seppi added.

Bottom line: Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about not having children (or anything else). Let me feel my feelings and find my own way through them.

Does this ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. Have you experienced “toxic positivity?” How do you react? Please share in the comments.

More reading on the subject:

“Toxic Positivity is Real” by Simone M. Scully, Healthline.com, July 22, 2020.

“Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side” by Konstantin Lukin, PhD., Psychology Today, Aug. 1, 2019