Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

I love Jackie Shannon Hollis and I love, love, love her book, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. [I wrote about it previously; read that post here].

When I saw that she was going to be on The Childfree Girls podcast, I decide to listen. You can see and hear it here:

She was of course wise and wonderful, and I envy her rich radio voice. The interviewers were lovely and smart, but they were all definitely in the don’t-want-babies-ever camp. That’s fine. They have the right to choose. One of the wonderful things about this era as opposed to earlier times is that women have a lot more choices for their lives.

Jackie told her story of how she didn’t feel the craving to have children when she was younger, although she had been raised to believe that’s what people did when they grew up, but then in her 30s, married to her second husband, she started to long for children, even though they had agreed not to have them. Her husband remained firmly in the no-baby camp.

She felt something missing in her life. She had dreams about babies and was fascinated by pregnancy. She asked her husband repeatedly, “Why don’t you want to have a child?” Although he respected her feelings, he did not change his mind. Ultimately she asked herself WHY do I want to have a baby and decided she would let go of that dream.

Now, she says, “I am quite content with my life, and I also have times when I am quite aware of the otherness of not having children.” Being in a world of pronatalism, celebration of pregnancy and childbirth, she feels, as we all do, caught between those with children and those without.

The women on the podcast talked about interacting with their parent friends and dealing with the questions we all get. When people ask why she doesn’t have children, Jackie says she likes to turn it around and ask why they do. Everyone agreed that too many people become parents without asking why they’re doing it.

It was a good session, but something bothered me. I felt like Jackie was being pushed to share the childfree point of view, to fit in with them and not admit to any doubts, regret or grief over her decision. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m just defensive about my own choices.

I have know women who claim that they have moved from “childless” to “childfree.” I don’t see that ever happening for me. I wanted children, and I still wish I had children. Although I appreciate the time and freedom I have had all these years and I know I might have missed a lot of wonderful things, I do not like going into old age alone.

And it is alone. As I listened, I kept talking back to the computer saying, “But you’re not alone. You have your husbands.”

Of course they couldn’t hear me. But sometimes when I’m around people who never wanted to have children, I feel like I’m being shamed for not embracing the joys of the childfree life, like the childfree folks are the cool kids and we’re the old-fashioned mommy wannabes. I suspect even those who embrace the childfree name might sometimes feel a little twinge, maybe a little doubt, but won’t admit it to their peers.

We’re all different. Even those of us who have moments of total heartbreak over our lack of children are probably okay with it a lot of the time. In the end, we’re all people whose state of mind varies constantly and who all deal with the nosy questions about why we don’t have kids or why we don’t “just” adopt. We feel left out of activities designed for “families,” grit our teeth through baby showers and grandma talk, and wonder who will help us in our old age.

A person in my life with whom I don’t get along very well told me once when I was feeling sad about not having kids, “Well, it’s your own damned fault.” Is it? Is that what she really thinks? Is that what other people think? Do we have to defend our choices and constantly explain that we’re not infertile but we’re also not joyfully childfree?

Jackie did great on the interview. She was able to turn the discussion around and ask questions of her three young hosts so the focus was not all on her. I don’t feel confident enough to put myself in that situation, even though I think we should all embrace the right to feel however we feel and say it out loud to anyone.

Maybe I’m all wrong, maybe I’m just conflicted about my choices, but do you know what I mean? Do some people make you feel like you have to defend yourself for accepting your childless-by-marriage situation and being sad about it? I’d love to hear what you think.

BTW, I get my podcasts about childlessness via an app called listennotes.com. It works like Google alerts. Type in your topic and you’ll get regular emails about podcasts that mention the subject you request. It costs $5 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

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These women had no children, but went on great adventures

I have just read books by two women who went on amazing adventures alone with their animals, one across the Australian Desert, the other across the Arctic. When I realized both never had children, I decided to share them with you. The women are my age now, but wow, what stories they tell.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson, Pantheon Books, 1980

Photo copyright Rick Smolen, National Geographic–Robyn Davidson and friend when they reached the Indian Ocean

Robyn Davidson is famous in her native Australia for her book Tracks about her 1,700-mile solo trek across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. The book was later made into a movie, and, at age 70, she is still talking about that trip. In fact, she was interviewed last year by Time Magazine to compare the solitude of the COVID-19 pandemic with her experience in Australia.

Tracks is gripping, well told, and inspiring. At 24, having dabbled in various occupations, Davidson becomes fascinated with camels and with the idea of crossing the desert alone. It sounds like a crazy plan, especially for a woman. The first half of the book takes us through her preparations, learning everything she can about camels, finding funding, and convincing herself that she really can do it. It takes two years before she sets off in conditions that would cause most of us to quit on the first day. It’s well over 100 degrees the whole trip. She deals with heat, thirst, wild animals, injuries, deaths, loneliness, and, in the later stages, the press clamoring to take pictures and get her story. But she persists. Her journey takes her through the lands of the Aboriginal people and forces her to face the great divide between white and black Australians. In the process, she finds new strength, and her life is forever changed.

Davidson has had some long-term relationships but never married or had children. In 1996, when she was 46, she was quoted in The Independent as saying, “When I was young, I thought I wouldn’t be a good mother. Now I think I would be, but I’m too long in the tooth.”

She had a deep love for her dog, Diggity, and for her camels, but she treasured her solitude and her freedom. Although she had a partner for 20 years, she has continued to cling to her solitude, favoring quiet and undisturbed writing time.

Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon, Alaska Northwest Books, 2001

Pam Flowers is also driven to travel but in a completely different territory, the arctic, where the temperatures are typically way below freezing. While Davidson walks and rides her camel, Flowers, age 46, rides or walks beside a sled pulled by eight Alaskan huskies on her 2,500-mile journey from the far northwest corner of Alaska to the far northeastern corner of Canada. It’s a white, frozen world where they are in near-constant danger of hypothermia, falling through soft ice, starving, or being attacked by polar bears. Like Davidson, Flowers interacts with the native peoples in the few villages along the way.

Flowers’ trip was the longest solo dogsled trek by a woman in recorded history, but, unlike Davidson, she had no funding and only a few people knew what she was doing.

Flowers has participated in nine arctic expeditions and completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. She has written numerous books, many for children. She has spoken to more than 700,000 students at over 1,200 schools and has spoken at the Smithsonian, the St. Louis Science Center, and hundreds of public libraries. Click here to hear a wonderful talk about her record-setting trip.

Both women have continued to travel. Both wrote that they felt more comfortable with animals than with people. I’m certain they did not consider them child substitutes. They were companions and teammates, depending on each other for survival.

These adventurers don’t speak much of their personal lives. It’s hard to imagine them undertaking these journeys if they had husbands and children. They were drawn to a different way of life, and it seems to have suited them.

If we end up not having children, think of all the other adventures we can try. Me, I don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold, so I’m not following in Davidson’s or Flowers’ footsteps. But I hope to cross the United States by car one of these days. Maybe I’ll rent an RV. Meanwhile, I’ll journey with my fingers as I write and play my music. My point is that if motherhood or fatherhood is not going to happen, there are other amazing possibilities to consider.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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It Hits Me Hard: I Could Have Made a Person

Dear friends,

I debated about whether to share this post. It’s a bit intense and belies the image I’d like to project of someone who has dealt with her childlessness and become a wise elder, but perhaps this moment of truth will help someone who still has time to change her or his situation. I read it last week at “Coffee and Grief,” an online reading series and now I share it with you

Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

I don’t know why these things come into my mind when they do. I was taking a quick bathroom break while my chicken took 10 more minutes in the oven, just long enough for me to put together the rest of my dinner, when it suddenly came to me that instead of choosing my man over the children I might have had, I could have made a person, a full-grown person like me. I never thought about it this way before.

For some reason, my brother comes to mind. I could have made a man like him, a real man. Or a woman. My brother is a judge, but my children could have been anything. I could have made people. With arms and legs and hearts and kidneys. With ideas, abilities, and feelings. With hands like mine. With brown eyes like mine. A man or woman who laughs, cries, loves . . . my heart is breaking. I could have done that, and I didn’t. Who would give up the chance to make a person?

Here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we talk about babies all the time. We want to have a baby. Our partner doesn’t. Or can’t. Babies take lots of care and cost money and interrupt one’s life in enormous ways. But babies are the seeds for grown people. Oh my God, what a miracle. That I could have a grown person walk through my door whom I made inside my own body, that that person could hug me—or fix my broken light fixture–or just talk and listen, that I could teach them and they could teach me…

That we could show up at a restaurant, church, or party as a team, a whole family instead of me walking in alone. That we could watch Fourth of July fireworks together. That they might make me a birthday cake and sing to me. That they could make children of their own and they would all be part of my family and we would grow and grow, new people to make up for each one who died. That someday, a young descendant might look me up on Ancestry.com and trace the lines leading from me to themselves instead of a name leading nowhere. Sure, there would be losses and sorrows. Some of my family might die. Some might be disabled. Some might be nasty, rotten people who want nothing to do with me. I know.

Of course, I might have proved to be infertile, although I don’t know of any problems in that area. If I were infertile, there would be no end to the sorrow, but maybe I’d feel less guilt. At least I tried.

In this minute while my chicken is probably burning and the dog is picketing my office door because her dinner is late, suddenly the reality is unbearable. I missed my chance, and now I can’t go back.

I consider my marriages. My first husband was a child, barely 30 when we divorced. He was unfaithful, drank too much, and didn’t want to work, but now I can see he was still so very young, and I was even younger. If the marriage had not failed, we might have had children after all.

And Fred, well, shoot, nobody ever loved me like that. Nobody else ever will. But he was older and had already made his own family. And now, too soon, he’s gone. Alzheimer’s. It’s just me and the dog.

It was all timing. Miserable, unfortunate timing.

Damn.

Maybe my church is right. Throw out the birth control, outlaw abortion. I know, we can’t do that. We need those things, but sometimes . . . What if we just tell all those people who don’t want children to find other people who don’t want children and leave the rest of us alone.

Young women whose partners won’t give them children often worry that they will regret their choice later. You will. No matter what you do. But not all the time. Most days, I’m fine, and you will be too. We can only do the best we can. If that means we cook a chicken dinner for one on a Sunday night, so be it.

This thought, that I could have made a person, hit me shortly after I turned over the chicken in the oven. It couldn’t be the chicken’s fault, but be warned, even at 68, childlessness can suddenly squeeze your heart and make your chicken taste like cardboard.

Today I’m okay. Taking care of business. But I still have these moments. How about you? I welcome your comments.

*****

Annie is doing better, but now she has an infected wound near her eye, requiring ointment and more pills and frequent checks to make sure she’s not rubbing it. I may not have had children, but I do know about taking care of other family members.

*****

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Are you destined for the childless path in life?

Johnson, Fenton. At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2020.

Growing up, Fenton Johnson saw three paths for his future: marriage, the priesthood, or a solitary life. He chose the third option because he felt he was always destined to be alone and that the solitary life would allow him the time and quiet to pursue his writing and become his best self.

In this book, he looks at famous people who made the same choice. Some were married but still chose to be “solitaries.” Among them are writers Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry David Thoreau and Rabindranath Tagore, artist Paul Cezanne, photographer Bill Cunningham, and singer Nina Simone. Each believed they needed to be alone to follow their destiny. Given the choice of love or work, they chose work.

Fenton, who as a solitary gay man has always felt like an outsider, explores solitude in depth. This is a dense, slow-reading book which takes a few too many side trips for my taste, but it makes a good point: We are not all destined for the family life.

Johnson talks about how sometimes people feel sorry for him because he’s alone, when he’s eating at a restaurant by himself, for example. They don’t understand that he is actually happy to be on his own, that he feels he is living his best life. I, too, really enjoy sitting alone reading a good book and being served a great meal. I also enjoy having lunch with friends, but that’s a completely different experience.

Johnson notes that while the church preaches family as the only way to go, most saints are solitaries.

It’s not always easy. He quotes Zora Neale Hurston: “Oh, how I cried out to be just as everyone else! Even as I hoped, I knew that the cup meant for my lips would not pass. I must drink the bitter drink.”

Sometimes I feel that I too was meant to be alone. Where Johnson calls it his destiny, I call it my default position. Even when I was married, I spent a lot of time alone, and now I’m back to where I was between marriages. Perhaps I was meant to be mostly alone to focus on my work, which I do most of my waking hours. When I’m not writing, I am reading, attending classes and readings, networking, and researching.

I would love to eat, sleep, and have fun with other people, but they’re not here, so I work, and I have no plans to “retire.” I have mentioned before on this blog that while I sacrificed children in my marriages, I would never give up my work for anyone. So perhaps things have turned out the way they’re supposed to, and I’m where I’m meant to be. Like Nina Simone, I cry out to be like everyone else, but I suspect the solitary path is the one I’m meant to walk.

I have interviewed artists, writers, musicians, priests, and medical professionals who sacrificed family for their work or their art. I have known of others who had the family and either neglected them horribly or eventually gave up their work to take care of them.

What is your default setting? Are you a born mom or dad destined to be surrounded by family, or do you have another calling that being childless would make easier to follow? Can you have both? What is most important to you to accomplish in this life? Only you can answer these impossible questions.

*****

Tomorrow night I will be reading a piece about childlessness at Coffee and Grief #19 at 7 p.m. PST. You can find the Zoom link on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349.

Also . . . I’m putting together a new mailing list via Mail Chimp. I encourage you to sign up in the box below. I promise not to fill your inbox with garbage.

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Can you let go of the dream of being a parent?

“Let It Go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore . . .” The hit song from the first “Frozen” movie has been playing in my head since lunchtime yesterday when I read the chapter on “Letting Go” in Lesley Pyne’s book “Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.” It’s a great song that I’ll never sing as well as I’d like to, and I wonder if I can ever do what the song says. Can I let it go?

Pyne insists that unless we let go of our dream of motherhood/fatherhood, we cannot move on to other dreams and possibilities. I have this vision of a toy boat caught in a swirling current. I send it away, and it keeps coming back. But maybe that’s how it is when you’re childless by marriage rather than physically unable to have children as Pyne and the other women described in her book are. They have tried for years, suffered multiple miscarriages, and spent great amounts of money and hope on infertility treatments that didn’t work. They reach a point where they’re 99 percent certain they are not going to have babies. The barriers of age, money, and physical limitations create a solid wall. They can mourn forever or let go of the dream and move on. Pyne suggests we hold letting-go rituals and get rid of the “grief museum” of things we have gathered for those children who aren’t coming.

I know some of you are in this boat, with you or your partner physically unable to reproduce. My heart grieves for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain of repeated attempts and losses. You should let yourself grieve as much as you need to. Pyne devotes a long chapter to grief. Unless you let yourself feel the grief, you cannot move on, she writes. You can’t run from it. Maybe you need to burn the baby clothes and remove all signs of baby prep in order to start to see a life without children.

But what if you’re not sure it’s over? What about the many readers here for whom the problem is their partner, the one who is unable or unwilling to have children with them? If you changed partners, you might become a mom or dad. The barrier between you and parenthood is not a solid wall, more like a barbed wire fence. If you decide to climb through it, you’ll get cut and scratched, but you’re tempted to try it. Are you willing to let go of the baby dream to stay with your partner? Are things good on this side, except for the not having babies bit. You’re not too old yet. How do you let that dream go? If you truly can’t, does that tell you what you need to do?

Can we let it go? Should we let it go? I find myself resisting. At my age, I know I’m not having children, but what’s wrong with keeping those crocheted baby booties I wrote about in a previous post? What’s wrong with thinking of the names I would have chosen for my children and fantasizing about what they would be like as adults?

I have always had other dreams that had little to do with children, and I have been living them all along. Even when my childless grief was at its peak, I was writing and performing and living a beautiful life with Fred. I did grieve, and it still hits me sometimes, but I have always kept living my life. Maybe I kept riding my boat in circles, but I like my boat and I like my circles.

No two childless journeys are the same, but you might want to check out Pyne’s book. It’s loaded with stories from childless women and step-by-step advice for getting out of the riptide of childlessness and on the way to a different but equally wonderful journey. Pyne, who lives in London, blogs at https://lesleypyne.co.uk/news-blog, and her website, https://www.lesleypyne.co.uk, offers a wealth of resources.

We who live near the ocean are told that if you get caught in a riptide, it’s best to swim with the current until you reach a place where the tide is weaker and you can swim out. Fighting it will only get you carried out to sea. Something to think about. We will all need to let go to a certain extent at some point, but how far down the beach that is will be different for each of us.

How about you? Are you ready to let go of the dream? Have you already done it?

***

My dog Annie, whom I wrote about here recently, is doing much better after her frightening bout with Vestibular Disease and two weeks in the veterinary hospital. She still gets a little wobbly, but is alert, independent, and always hungry. We are so glad to be together again. Thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes.

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Advice for the Potentially Childless by Marriage

What would you tell a young person facing a childless-by-marriage situation? I was interviewed last night for the UnRipe podcast from Australia. Interviewer Jo Vraca and Mina  Sedgman kept asking me this question, pushing for a concrete answer. What I wanted to say was “I don’t know” or “Every situation is different.” I said, “Talk about it,” “Make a conscious decision,” “Don’t do what I did.”

I felt like what I did back in my 20s and 30s was so wishy-washy. I never made an actual decision, even after we considered the options and Fred told me he really didn’t want to have any more children. I never told him, “Hey, I really want to have children and you need to step up.” I never said, “Okay, if I marry you, I accept that I will never have my own children.”

I just went ahead and got married, tried to bond with his children, and gradually decided I had been ripped off. I had not. I was just doing my usual denial of facts. Way too many Disney movies had convinced me that if you just wish hard enough for something, it will come true. Queue the music for “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Sometimes you don’t get your wish. I don’t think I really got that until I was in my 50s, when menopause, my mother’s death, Fred’s fatal illness, and my father’s years of major health problems pushed all thoughts of parenthood way into the past.

So, now that I’ve had time to think about it, what would I advise?

1) Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. If you have always wanted children, start the discussions early. A few dates in, it’s okay to mention that you look forward to having children and ask how they feel about it. As the relationship progresses, keep checking in. As we have seen in many posts and comments here, people change their minds. You and your partner need to be a team, not adversaries.

2) If the person you’re falling in love with offers a hard no to kids and you can’t stand the idea of never having them, walk away. I know that’s hard. In the interview, they asked me if I thought about walking away from Fred. I did not. I was obsessed with my career, and I had my stepchildren, who I thought would fill the gap. I was so in love and so sure no one else would ever love me like he did that leaving didn’t seem like an option. But it was. I was 33 when we got married; I still had time. I was wrong to think I’d been ripped off. Consciously or not, I chose this. So I advise you to make a conscious choice: Is this a deal-breaker? Then go. Are you willing to live with it? Then stay. I know many of you feel trapped, but you do have a choice.

3) Having children is huge, but many of us are called to do other things with our lives. Consider what else you are besides a potential mother or father. What talents and interests can you pursue full out without the constraints of parenthood? Consider the possibilities instead of the impossibilities.

4) If you accept the childless life, let yourself grieve the loss of the life you thought you would have. Don’t be silent about it. Tell your mate, family and friends what you’re dealing with, and don’t let them shame you into thinking you’ve done something wrong or that you have no right to grieve.

Dear readers, having come this far in your childless journey, what would you advise someone facing a similar situation? What would you do now if you had it to do over again?

My interview on the UnRipe podcast will be online shortly. I’ll let you know where to hear it. My thanks to Jo Vraca and Mina Sedgman for a fabulous conversation and for their continuing efforts to support childless women.

Love or Children: the Flip Side of the Story

Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both is the title of my new book which came out Dec. 7. In my mind, this book, based on the Childless by Marriage blog, is totally about being childless because your partner is unable or unwilling. If you insist on having babies, you will have to leave and find someone else. It’s one or the other; you can’t have both.

But when a friend who has children saw the title and said, “I need that book,” I realized a whole other set of people might be looking here for answers they may not find. What if you were the one who had children? What if you were a single parent? Would that make it difficult to date or remarry? That’s not the subject of this blog, but a lot of us have dated or married single parents. Suddenly our relationship is complicated with babysitters, custody arrangements, a lack of privacy, child support payments, and the growing awareness that those kids will always come first in the parent’s heart. The kids may be resentful of any potential mother or father substitute or so eager for a new mommy or daddy that it’s all a bit overwhelming. You may like the person you’re dating, but that’s a lot of baggage to take on.

When the woman says, “I have two kids,” does the guy say, “Oh, great. I love kids,” or “Whoa, that’s a deal breaker”? When the guy says, “I have three kids and they’re with me this weekend,” do you get excited or nervous? Is your new girlfriend or boyfriend terrified their kids will scare you away?

In the few cases I dated men with children, they did not have custody, so it was a little easier to deal with. In one case, I got along better with my boyfriend’s sons than I did with my boyfriend. With Fred’s kids, it was easy with Michael, the youngest, but the teenagers came with massive chips on their shoulders. I wanted so bad to be a mom, but it never got as warm and fuzzy as I wanted it to. Would I rather Fred didn’t have children at all? Well, then I’d wonder why not. At his age, don’t most men have children?  

Since I’ve been a widow, I have thought about what it would be like to remarry. The man would probably have children and grandchildren, and they might not accept me at all. I certainly wouldn’t replace “Mom” or “Nana.” If they loved me, how wonderful, but I fear I’d be coming in way too late for that.

What about leaving a childless relationship to have children on your own, via sperm donor, adoption, or another relationship? If you have these kids by yourself, will that sour your chances for love later on? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’d love to hear what you think about this.

The book Love or Children is not a dating guide for single parents. There are other books on that subject. But it is interesting to look at the flip side of the childless by marriage equation. What if you were the one with the kids? Many of us have married people with children from previous relationships. In the early days, was that an attraction or a potential problem? Did you foresee the existence of those children preventing you from having your own? Would you rather they did not have kids? You’re anonymous here; you can be honest.

***

Annie Update:

My sweet Annie, whom I wrote about on both my blogs last week (read my posts here and here), is home. After two weeks in the veterinary hospital when she was unable to stand or walk on her own, she’s up and driving me crazy. She’s still a bit wobbly, but getting stronger every day. I hopeful she’ll be back to normal in another week. I really didn’t know whether she would survive. I’m so grateful. Thank you all for your loving comments and prayers.

***

Next week, I’m going to be interviewed for the UnRipe podcast for childless and childfree women. Click here to check out some of the previous episodes. Host Jo Vraca is in Australia, but we’re recording at a civilized 6 p.m. Oregon time next Tuesday. as soon as I find out, I will let you know where and when you can hear it. The most recent episode, “Four Childless Women Walk into a Bar,” offers a wonderful discussion from varying points of view, including having a partner who doesn’t want kids, having trouble conceiving, and simply waiting too late.

Our pets are not baby substitutes, but . . .

Are our pets baby substitutes? We have talked about this before, and my answer to anyone who says, “Well, at least you have your dog,” is that it’s not the same, but recent events have made me think about this more deeply than ever.

My dog Annie has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas. Because nothing local was open during the Christmas weekend, I took her to Corvallis, 55 mountain-road miles from where I live. The Willamette Veterinary hospital is incredibly busy. Due to Covid, people can’t go inside with their pets. I have now waited in my car in the parking lot for 12 hours spread over three different occasions and waited for phone calls every minute of every day and night. I constantly wonder if the vet will tell me it’s hopeless and recommend that she be euthanized. I constantly fantasize that the vet will tell me Annie is up and walking, hallelujah.

Day after day, they say she’s “about the same.”

Until Christmas afternoon, she was having a great time with me and “Auntie Pat.” She shared our Christmas food, went for a walk, and lay between us enjoying our company. Then she went to get up and collapsed. Got up, collapsed again. Somehow, falling again and again, she made it to the back yard, where she lay soaked in the rain and refusing to move until my neighbors helped me get her into the car. Christmas was so over as I sped in the dark to Corvallis.

At almost 13, after two knee surgeries, Annie has severe arthritis, but her main problem is something called Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo that makes it impossible for her to find her balance. At first, she looked like she’d had a stroke, her face scrunched up on one side, her body falling to the left. She wouldn’t eat or drink, just kept whining and crying. Now she’s eating and drinking and acting much like herself, but she still can’t walk on her own. She has worn a catheter to urinate, which led to a urinary tract infection. She has bed sores from lying on her left side so much. Are we just putting off the inevitable?

The doctor asked me to buy a “Help ‘em Up” harness that lifts under her shoulders and hips When I brought it, I could visit. Wonderful. I would be able to see for myself whether Annie was still Annie. I got up early and drove to Corvallis, then called from the car to say I was there. An aide whisked the harness away, saying she wasn’t sure about a visit. But I could wait. I waited. All morning.

I watched the woman in the next car be reunited with her little dog. The dog licked her face, sniffed her all over, and settled on her shoulder, much like a baby, finally going to sleep, safe and content with “Mom.” But not Mom. His mother was a dog. The woman is his human, the person he trusts to take care of him. Watching them, I sobbed. I hadn’t seen my dog in 12 days and the way things were going, I wouldn’t see her that day either. They kept telling me they were too busy to arrange a socially-distanced visit.

At 12:30, I got them to let me in to use the restroom and broke their Covid protocol to accost the receptionist and beg to see my dog. She went into a back room to check. Maybe later today, no promises, she said. I went back to my car and cried some more. I felt cold, hungry, and hopeless.

In late afternoon, I was thinking I’d have to drive home without a visit when they told me to come in. Annie and I met in a little sitting room where the workers put blankets on the floor and brought her dinner. It took two of them to get her there, using the harness. Three hours of driving and five hours of waiting were all worth it just to hug my Annie and tell her I loved her, to stare into those big brown eyes. She looked better than when I brought her in, but she was not ready to go home. Maybe a few more days with the harness . . . God knows how much money this is costing me, but I don’t care.

This morning while I was in the shower, the doctor left a message that Annie is about as good as she’s going to get and is ready to go home. I have appointments and work to do today, and I don’t know how I would get my dog out of the car or into the house. The folks at the veterinary hospital don’t seem to understand that it’s just me here. No husband, no kids, no roommate. The four other people who live on this street are gone during the day. My friends, mostly older, are hiding from Covid. I don’t know what to do.

She’s just a dog, some might say. But she’s my Annie, my person, my partner, and my dependent. Because I am a childless widow with no family nearby, Annie is the only flesh and blood mammal I can hug freely and with whom I can be completely myself. I have cared for her from 7 weeks to old age. We have been through so much together.

Last night, I thought about what our pets are to us, what Annie is to me. I had watched an old episode of the TV show “Parenthood.” Talk about triggers—everybody is dealing with their parent-child relationships, and it just made me cry. Somehow I felt like a worried-sick parent as I watched. I am not Annie’s mother. But I have been responsible for her care since she was a puppy. She depends on me. She loves me, but she does not take care of me. She is my companion, but not an equal one. I control the keys, the leash, and the can opener. “Mother” may be the wrong word, but it’s something like parenting.

Whatever you call it, she’s an integral part of my life, the one I greet in the morning and say good night to when I go to bed. Child. Best friend. Partner. Roommate. Old Auntie. Pet. Pride and joy. A human is not supposed to be all these things wrapped into one body. You’re either a child or a best friend, a partner or a pet. But a dog can be all these things. Annie is.

The vet hospital “hold” recording that I have heard over and over refers to us as “pet parents.” The receptionist has asked if I’m “Annie’s person.” They don’t say “owner,” which I suppose would be accurate, too, although I hate the sound of it. I did pay for Annie, just like I paid for my car, but it’s a lot different.

Whatever we are to be called, a dozen of us sat for hours in that parking lot in the rain waiting to have our dogs taken care of or waiting to be reunited. Sitting there, I remembered my mother coming to get us after school on rainy days, the safe feeling when my brother, the neighbor kids, and I were in the car heading home.

If I bring Annie home tomorrow, I will have to cancel my few outings for the foreseeable future. I don’t know how I will manage by myself, but at least she will be on this side of the mountain and we’ll be together.

I have gone on too long about my own problems. The country is going crazy this week, and that is very frightening. But the subject of the day is our pets. Mine is a dog, but cats, rats, gerbils and llamas count, too. What are our pets to us and what are we to them? I still say they are not a baby substitute. For many, many reasons, it’s not the same. So, how do they fit into the picture for you? I welcome your comments.

Will the New Year Bring Babies, Breakups or ???

Adios, 2020. Happy New Year? This has been a year far beyond our control, a year when the “normal” just around the corner keeps moving beyond our reach. We’ve seen lockdowns, businesses closed, and people sick or dying of a virus we had never heard of a year earlier. We’re wearing masks and minimizing contact with other people except by computer on Zoom—never heard of that before 2020 either. Wildfires, hurricanes, political upheaval, Brexit—we’ve had it all. In the midst of this craziness, when most of us are just trying to survive, how can we even think about having babies? What if you’re single? If you didn’t go into the pandemic with a partner, how could you think about dating?  

I often compare COVID to musical chairs. Whoever you had with you when the music stopped, that’s who you have for the duration. If you had no one, well, welcome to my world. As I write this, even my dog Annie (pictured above as a puppy) is gone. She has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas, when she collapsed with a type of vertigo called Vestibular Disease. It looked like a stroke, but it’s not that. As of now, she is back to eating and drinking and can sit up, but she still cannot stand or walk. Will she recover? I don’t know yet. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Now that we have a fresh new year, a blank page on the calendar, can we go back to normal? Can we go from sick to healthy, fearful to confident, isolated to together again? To eating in restaurants, attending concerts and plays, working out at the gym, going to church, and throwing parties?

If only. On Jan. 1, we will still have the same problems we’ve got on Dec. 31, including childlessness. I have lost nine people I cared about this year, one to COVID, the others to the maladies of old age. I wish there were more children coming up behind them to fill the gaps they leave behind. I have my nieces and nephews, but they are far away, and I haven’t seen them in person in over a year.

I hope 2021 can bring some added daylight to your situation. As I have said in past years, make this the year that you speak plainly to your partner about childlessness and make a conscious decision to accept a life without offspring or do something about it. When you can’t have this partner and children, which are you willing to give up?

That’s the question explored in our new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. I just got my copies yesterday. It offers the best of my blog posts and your comments, and I hope you buy it.

As we wind down, although we can’t see the future, we can hear the stories of older women who have lived the childless journey at Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen webinar today, Dec. 30, at noon Oregon time. Speakers include Jody Day, authors Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Donna Ward, and Maria Hill, “NotMom” founder Karen Malone Wright, and me. This will be my first Zoom outing with this international group. To participate, click here and go to the registration link near the bottom. The session will be recorded, so you can listen another time if you can’t make it today.

I wish you all the best of new years. May the problems that keep you awake at night be resolved and much happiness come to you.

Big socially distanced hug,

Sue

Christmas! It’s All About Children!

Suddenly Christmas looks like it’s all about babies. For my other blog, I posted a video of me singing “Silent Night.” I thought about posting another song here, but every song I looked at that was not annoying and not copyrighted was about the Mother and Child or about children being all excited about Santa Claus. There were angels and shepherds, too, but the Baby Jesus is almost always in there.

Photo by JINU JOSEPH on Pexels.com

Of course, Jesus isn’t just any baby. Depending on your beliefs, he’s the son of God, a prophet, a king or just a really famous historical figure but definitely not just a regular baby. In our Catholic liturgies this month, we also have the story of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth having a baby after years of being barren. That child became John the Baptist. 

We don’t know for sure if Mary had other children. Some faiths say yes, some say no. Did the Virgin Mary stay a virgin? Did Joseph lose his chance to be a biological dad by sticking with Mary? The Bible doesn’t share that detail.

I’m thinking a lot about the Holy Family not just because it’s Christmas but because I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings, a novel about Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus. There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus having a wife. Perhaps he stayed single so that he could focus on his ministry. If He did have a wife, many think it was Mary Magdalene, but what if he married a feisty first-century feminist named Ana instead? It’s fascinating to think about.

Ana wants to be a writer—a scribe—a role not usually allowed to women. A mother? Not so much. She uses the birth control methods of the era to try to avoid getting pregnant. You’ll have to read the book to see how that plays out, but it’s interesting to envision what it was like in a time when women had almost no freedom but still had dreams that motherhood would make difficult to fulfill.

Here’s another thought. What if Jesus did have a wife and He told her that he couldn’t have children because God the Father sent him to save humanity from our sins? What if Jesus’s wife was childless by marriage?

I’m just letting my crazed mind wander. I hope I don’t offend anyone. I have had too much stormy weather and Zoom church. Is the rain and wind in western Oregon ever going to stop? But seriously, does Christmas bum you out with all of its emphasis on mothers and babies? Are there songs that you just can’t stand because they remind you that you don’t have children? Are the holidays any easier for childless non-Christians? Let’s talk about it.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. It will be an odd one with COVID-19 keeping us from our usual celebrations. I have just had a loved one die of the virus. His live-streamed funeral is next Monday. I will be thinking of his wife and kids as my sister-friend Pat and I celebrate our little Christmas for two. We’re getting takeout food this time, too lazy to cook. But we are going to bake cookies this afternoon just for fun. Neither of us needs the added calories, but we miss the good times of yesteryear. So we’ll talk and sing and bake and treasure the moments.

What is your plan for this week? Is it easier or harder because you can’t gather with lots of people? Please share in the comments.

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NEWS!

On Dec. 30, I will join a group of older childless women from all over the English-speaking world for a Zoom chat titled “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen.” Participants include include Jody Day of Gateway Women; Karen Malone Wright, founder of The NotMom; Maria Hill of Sensitive Evolution; Jackie Shannon Hollis, author of This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story; Kate Kaufmann, author of Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No; Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life, and Stella Duffy, novelist, actor, playwright, and founder of FunPalaces. Click the link here for more information. It’s happening at noon Pacific Time, but will be recorded for those who can’t attend then. This is my first outing with this “Elderwomen” group, and I would love to see some friends there. Do come.

The new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which offers the best of this blog, is out now. You can get it at Amazon or order it from your favorite bookseller. If you send me proof of purchase and your U.S. mailing address at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of my previous book, Childless by Marriage, totally free. Overseas readers, due to postage costs, I can only offer the Kindle version. If you already own the first book, check out my web site and pick another book you’d like to have.

To promote the new book, I’m asking for reviews, speaking opportunities, guest spots on blogs and podcasts, and social media “shares” wherever you can. This is our book. Without your comments, it would be nothing. Let’s spread the word far and wide. Contact me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com.  

I am so grateful for all of you. I hope this Christmas eases your hearts and that you find peace one way or the other with your childless situation. Be well.

Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021,

Love Sue and Annie the Dog

P.S. did you see the true story about the childless couple who decided to adopt a calf as their son? Read it here.