What happens when your friend has a baby?

Dear friends,

Thank you for your wonderful responses to last week’s post when I asked you to share what brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog and to describe your situation. What a great group we have here, and I’m so grateful if this blog helps even a little.

It’s a diverse group. Some are married, some are single. Some have fertility problems while others are healthy, but they aren’t sure they want to have children. Many are married or engaged to men who have already had children and don’t want any more. Those men have often had vasectomies, making it difficult to change their minds. Some talk of adoption, fertility treatments or vasectomy reversals, while others like “Oh Well” are just trying to accept a life without children. You can read all of the comments here.

One commenter, Jennifer, tells a happy-ending story in which she finally convinced her husband to have his vasectomy reversed. Now they have a baby girl. She said she will probably unsubscribe from the blog soon.

So I have a question for you. I know that most of us are struggling with the idea that we will never have children. But if one of us does have a child, do you think that disqualifies her from participating in Childless by Marriage? She knows how it felt to be childless and fear she would never have children. I think we should celebrate with her. What do you think?

I know that many of you are uncomfortable being around happy parents and children because it reminds you of what you don’t have. Also, too many parents become so obsessed with their children they forget their childless friends exist. They make new friends with people who have kids. I hate that, even though I understand how children can take over a person’s life.

But our friends are still our friends. Way back when my best friend Sherri had her one and only child, we were both already in our mid-30s. I knew she went through a lot to become a mother. She never made me feel left out. We have never stopped being friends, and I’m glad to know her daughter.

So this week’s question: What happens to our friendships, online or in real life when our friend becomes a parent and we’re still childless? Please share your opinions and experiences in the comments. If men are out there reading this, please join the conversation and feel free to comment on past posts, too.

 

 

 

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Are You Childless by Marriage Like Me?

Annie 9215A
Babies? What’s that?

Dear friends, I’ve hit a wall. After 11 years, I feel as if I have told you everything there is to tell. Because I’m childless, widowed and aging, spending my days with people well past menopause, I’m completely out of the baby/no baby loop. It’s just me and my dog Annie riding this spinning globe together. I can write endlessly about the neighborhood dogs and Annie’s upcoming knee surgery, but I rarely interact with children or young parents except on Facebook, with a “like” here and a “love” there.

Being childless means that while my friends are either visiting their children and grandchildren or hosting them at their homes this summer, it’s still just me and Annie. It would be different if I lived closer to my family or they were the kind of folks who actually got together. My father and I often have telephone conversations like this:

Dad: Have you heard from your brother?

Me: No. Have you?

Dad: No. He never calls. Have you heard from anybody else?

Me: No. In fact, I had to call myself to make sure my phone could still receive incoming calls.

Dad: Don’t your friends call?

Me: They text.

But my dysfunctional family is beside the point. I’m living in a  green forest bubble with  my dog. I have nothing new to say. But I have no intention of quitting this blog. So let’s talk about you. I surrendered my chance to have children before many of you were born. Times were different. I want to know how it is for you now. Let’s start with this:

What brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog? Do you consider yourself childless by marriage or fear that you will be? What’s going on? How can we help?

Please share in the comments. Let’s get this conversation going.

Thank you all for being here.

 

Birthdays are tough for childless women

Jody Day of Gateway Women, a UK organization for people who are childless not by choice, is celebrating her 54th birthday. In her blog post today, “Ten Tips for Healing from the Heartbreak of Childlessness,” she notes that she doesn’t mind her birthdays now, but in her 40s, when she was trying unsuccessfully to conceive, it was a different story. Every birthday was a reminder that she was running out of time.

Jody’s post takes me back to my 40th birthday. I was struggling with my childlessness at that point. Fred and I had been married for seven years. My fantasies about somehow getting pregnant in spite of his vasectomy and his declaration that he did not want to have any more children were fading away. It wasn’t going to happen. It was too late. Sometimes I just couldn’t stand it. I struggled with depression, overeating, and overdrinking.

The day before my birthday, I attended a retreat with women from my church. One of the rituals we did, lighting a candle for our loved ones, sent me into a major meltdown. Everyone was talking about their children, and I would never have any. I was not a person who wept in public, but I sobbed for a long time. Then I wanted a drink, but there was no booze.

I shared a room that night with Julie, who was unable to conceive. She and her husband were trying to adopt a child, but having trouble with that process. We talked late into the night before falling into sad, heavy sleep.

The next day, back home, my family threw a big party for my birthday. Everyone was there to celebrate and laud my accomplishments. I made them laugh with a speech about the joys of growing old ( Now I know 40 is NOT old). It was all great fun, but inside I was hurting. Other people’s children ran around the hall, playing and shouting. Where were my kids?

Like Jody, I find birthdays easier now. I have other issues, like being alone and fearing old age, but I don’t think too much on my birthdays about my lack of children. It’s too late to change the situation. The hurt returns unexpectedly at other times, a moment when I’m feeling lonely or when my friends share pictures of their grandchildren. This grief is real and should be acknowledged, Jody emphasizes in her blog.

I know many of you are right in the middle of the hurting time. Someone reading this may be having a birthday today. I feel for you. If there’s anything you can do to change your situation before it’s too late, please do it. If not, then the hard work is learning to accept it. Jody offers good advice in her blog.

Hang in there, my friends. You are not alone.

Fiction vs. the Realities of Parenting

In the book I just finished, a 569-page epic by Wallace Stegner titled Angle of Repose, the 1880s heroine, Susan, is an accomplished artist and writer. She is blessed with influential friends who publish everything she sends them. She also lives in a series of mining camps with a husband whose business schemes keep failing, but he refuses to live off his wife’s earnings. It’s quite a story and a delicious read for someone like me who loves to delve into American history.

What does that have to do with being childless by marriage? Susan is not childless. She has three children, but she also has nannies and relatives who deal with the kids, cook the meals, wash the clothes, and clean the home while Susan works. Alas, the book is fiction. Most of us don’t have people like that in our lives. If we had children, we might find it difficult to focus on any creative endeavor or even to juggle a job with childcare and home duties. How can we become “Mom” and still be ourselves? That’s one of many things that might make us hesitate to have children. I know of many women in the arts who have decided they can’t do both.

It’s less of a dilemma for men in most cases because somehow, no matter how much things have changed—and they have changed a lot—women still do most of the childcare and homemaking. Men seem to worry more about the financial aspects and the perceived loss of freedom. How will they keep the kids fed and clothed, how will they get away to go fishing or whatever their hobby is, how will they have sex in the living room?

I know most readers here would gladly take on the challenges for a chance to have children. They’d give anything to hold a baby of their own in their arms. But it’s not hard to understand, in these days when we have a choice, why our partners might hesitate when it comes to having children.

It’s something to think about.

***

Something else to ponder: Why in the vagaries of the Internet do people keep offering me guest posts about parenting and childcare? Each time, I explain that this blog is for people who don’t have children. Apparently the blog triggers some kind of SEO tag that brings in the mommy bloggers.

For the record, I am interested in guest posts, 600 words max, that are relevant to our Childless by Marriage theme. Pitch me a topic or send me a potential post at sufalick@gmail.com. I’m sorry, there’s no pay for this, but you would be published and be able to speak directly to our wonderful readers.

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Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.

Little-girl hug makes childless auntie happy

Sue & Riley 62318Being an aunt is the best. You don’t have to earn it, justify it or explain it. Yes, there are honorary aunts, and I’ve got a relative who insists on dubbing all adult cousins “aunt” and “uncle,” so the kids grow up thoroughly confused, but I’m talking about real aunts (and uncles).

I just came back from my dad’s house in California. No Wi-Fi, hence no post last week. It was a challenging trip. I was originally going to attend my niece’s party to celebrate her birthday and the adoption of her little boy. But she got sick and had to cancel. I should have canceled, too, but I had already gotten the time off, and I had told my 96-year-old father I was coming. I put Annie in doggie jail and drove almost 700 miles to San Jose. The drive felt extra long. I was sleepy and tired as I dodged trucks, RVs, and cars on I-5. When I arrived, my father was in a terrible mood, but I did my best to help him, despite temperatures nearing 100 and no air conditioning. I was alarmed at how his health had declined in the two months since I saw him last. I cooked, cleaned, gardened, and assured him I would do whatever needed doing.

Early on the second morning, I woke up sick. Stomach flu. The sites online describe it as a sudden explosion, followed by a strong desire to die. Yes. Total output, fever, chills, aches, the works—on the hottest day of the year in San Jose. I lost six pounds in two days and wasn’t much help to my dad (who wasn’t much help to me). As soon as I could drag myself out of bed, I continued trying to help him. We fixed the bathroom sink, I pulled weeds, I cleaned the refrigerator (pleasantly cold), cooked, and washed dishes. I went to Jack in the Box and bought him a milkshake.  I listened to hours of stories about the old days on the ranch, in the Pacific during World War II, and on the job as an electrician. Eventually my stomach stopped threatening to erupt, and I could stand for more than a minute.

My brother came to visit with his son William and his two-year-old granddaughter Riley. My nephew explained to his little girl that I was “Papa’s big sister.” Riley has lots of aunts, including four with names that are variations of “Susan,” but I’m Papa’s only big sister.

Any doubts about whether I should have gone to California were erased when Riley came running to me with a big smile, arms open wide for a hug. Yes, aunthood is good. She’s at the age where she’s discovering the world and is rarely still or quiet. I’m glad I’m not responsible for her 24/7. I don’t understand half of what she says. But I loved interacting with her and watching her as she explored my dad’s backyard and got soaked playing with the sprinkler on that hot afternoon. And I loved spending time with her daddy, a giant of a man I remember as a funny little boy with glasses who didn’t mind hanging out with Aunt Sue.

Aside from our Saturday with the kiddos, it was just Dad and I, two people who usually live alone. I’m alone because of the whole widow-without-kids thing, but my father has two children, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He rarely sees any of them, doesn’t know when their birthdays are or what they care about. He expects nothing from them and offers nothing in return. Part of that is being a guy. Mom was the one who kept the family connections going. Part of that is the sharp-edged side of his personality that I have known all my life. Big sigh.

Dad is uncle to nine wonderful adults, along with their children and grandchildren. Again, not much connection. He talks a lot about his family history. He loved his Uncle Louie and his Uncle Walter. I don’t know what happened. I guess you make what you will of the opportunity.  I think you have to start when the nieces and nephews are young, offering your love, your time, and your interest in what interests them. The rewards can be great. And it’s way easier than being a step-parent.

I know sometimes it feels too painful to be around other people’s children. Perhaps seeing your siblings become parents just reminds you of what you’re missing. But if you’re lucky enough to be an aunt or uncle, don’t miss this chance to love and be loved by a little one.

For more about being a childless aunt or uncle, read Melanie Notkin’s book Savvy Auntie and check out her blog at the Savvy Auntie website. Ten years ago, Notkin established July 22 as Auntie’s Day, so if you can claim aunthood in any form, go celebrate.

Also visit my previous posts about being an aunt. “Free to Be Aunt Sue” is about my relationship with Riley’s daddy, William. “Learning How to Be a Great Aunt Sue” talks about my first time meeting Riley.

I welcome your comments on being an aunt or uncle. Also, do you say “ant” or “awnt?”

 

 

 

Neither dogs nor exchange students are the same as having your own kids

annie-9314When a friend at church choir said that his 50th wedding anniversary was June 22, I mentioned that that was the date I married my first husband. After practice, he came up to me at the piano. He said he hadn’t realized I had had a husband before Fred. He asked if I had any children from that marriage. “Nope,” I said, covering the keyboard and turning out the light. He started to walk away, then turned back to tell me I could always host an exchange student. He and his wife have done that for years.

“Sometimes I can barely tolerate my dog,” I said, successfully going for a laugh. But really, why would I want to take in someone else’s teenager, only to send them home at the end of the school year? That is nothing like having a child of your own. Besides, as a stepmother, I’ve done the taking care of someone else’s kid thing. It is no replacement for your own.

Meanwhile, there’s the dog. A bear has been prowling around our streets lately. Neighbors have seen her—they think the bear is female—in their yards. As my chiropractor neighbor adjusted my spine yesterday, he told me his wife had found the bear with the chickens. One of the chickens died.

“What about the fence?” I asked.

“The bear just mowed it down,” he said, cracking my neck.

Since he’s uber-Christian, I didn’t say the word that came to mind. I had hoped my chain-link fence would keep the bear out of my yard.

Last night, Annie started barking around 9:30. She would not stop. She would not come in. Something is out there, she insisted. She’s too big to pick up and carry in. I lured her in with cookies and covered up the doggy door. She was so desperate she pulled the cover off. Racing around the yard barking, she ignored the treats I offered. “I’ll give you 10 if you’ll shut up!” I yelled.

Around midnight, I looked everywhere with the big flashlight, then sat holding my dog under the stars. She was shaking and panting, every muscle taut. I tried to explain to her that it was okay to go off duty and go to sleep. I tried to explain that the neighbors needed to sleep and that the bear might hurt her. But no. She couldn’t rest. She ran off to bark some more.

When I dragged her in and blocked access to the door, she whined as if she were in incredible pain. Lax dog mom that I am, I got out of bed and let her go. Perhaps with the fence, Annie’s high-pitched barking, and the complete lack of anything a bear might want to eat, the bear would not bother us. I hoped gun-toting neighbors would also stay away.

I don’t know what time Annie stopped barking, probably when it started to rain. Now she’s conked out on the loveseat. This morning, I see no sign of the bear, but in her anxiety, Annie shredded the lounge cushion. Nuts. In the middle of my dog’s barkathon, I wanted to a) go sleep at a motel, b) give the dog a sedative, c) never get another pet, or d) trade Annie for a cat because cats don’t bark. But this morning, I love my dog too much to do any of those things.

I hope if I had a baby, I would be willing to stay up all night when she cried and do whatever it took to keep her safe and happy, even when she turned into a teenager. In return, by the time I reached the age I am now, I would have a younger adult who (I hope) loved me and made sure I was all right. Someone who would call and say, “Hi Mom. How are you?”

I will never get that from an exchange student or a dog. My friend means well, but as a father of three with several grandchildren, he doesn’t understand.

As for that first husband we don’t talk about at church because Catholics frown on divorce (I got an annulment!), he got married two more times and never had any children, but that is ancient history.

What kind of lame things do people suggest to ease your childless emptiness?