Is This Childless by Marriage Business Just a White-People Thing?

This is going to be a touchy post. One of the blessings of this kind of blog where people comment anonymously is that I have no idea what you look like. I don’t see race, gender, or disabilities. Tall, short, fat, thin, I don’t know. I recognize UK writers because of how they spell certain words. I know your ages because you mention them in your comments. I assume people are telling the truth—just as you have to assume that about me. I am. I only make stuff up for my novels. And my picture is right here for you to see.

I was reading old posts the other day when I suddenly stopped, startled, and thought, “Is this just a white-person problem? Infertility affects all kinds of people, of course, but is this refusal of one spouse or partner to have children a cultural thing? Are blacks, Latinos and Asians less likely to have this kind of disagreement? Do I dare even ask?

Come to think of it, all the books I have read about childlessness by choice, by marriage, or by circumstance were written by white women. I identify as more than half Hispanic, due to my Portuguese, Spanish and Mexican roots, but officially I, too, am white/Caucasian. OMG, how have I not noticed this before?

Aside from Oprah, aren’t all the celebrities known for choosing to be childfree also white? Wait. Karen Malone Wright, who founded the NotMom group, is African-American. But who else? Somebody set me straight on this.

Put another way, is this a “first world” problem? Those of us with access to education, jobs, and healthcare have more choices. We can choose career over motherhood. We can get birth control pills, condoms, diaphragms or IUDs. Men can choose to have vasectomies. We can even get a legal abortion. We can also buy the most modern medical help if we want children and have trouble conceiving. That is not true everywhere.

In developing countries where people struggle to get basics like food and clean water, it may be difficult to access birth control. The babies just come. There’s no discussion of, “Well, I don’t think I want to have children.” In some cultures, India for example, being childless is considered a scandalous thing. Wives who can’t conceive are shunned. I’m sure that’s true in other places.

What do the numbers say? In the United States, says the PEW research group, “…the prevalence of childlessness varies by race and ethnicity as well. Hispanic women are far less likely to remain childless throughout their childbearing years than are non-Hispanic whites or blacks. Just 10% of Hispanic women ages 40 to 44 now report having had no biological children. At the other end of the spectrum, fully 17% of white women in this age range report the same. Some 15% of black women are childless, as are 13% of Asian women.

“Across major racial and ethnic groups, childlessness today appears to vary no more than a few percentage points from what it was in 1994, or even 1988, the first year for which detailed fertility data are available. In the late 1980s, 15% of white women ages 40 to 44 were childless, as were 14% of black women and 11% of Hispanic women. Fertility data on Asian women are not available for 1988, but in 1994, some 14% of these women were childless.”

Of course, these numbers don’t answer the question of WHY they don’t have children.

Other factors play a huge role. For example, the more education a woman has the more likely she is to be childless, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Religion also plays a part. Catholics, for example, see the use of birth control as a sin. To get permission to marry in the church, the couple has to agree, in writing, to welcome children. Sure, Latinos are more likely to be Catholic, but not necessarily.

Financial status, family situation, access to health care—so many things play into this.

But still I’m asking, gently, with trepidation, is this a thing? Are white people more likely to be childless by marriage? Or do we just make more noise about it?

What do you think? Please comment. You don’t have to blow your anonymity. Am I crazy, way off base, or do I have a point?

Crocheted Baby Sneakers Set Me Off

Booties and squirrelsI was looking through Facebook the other day when I saw pictures of little crocheted sneakers for babies. Friends showered the post with likes and loves, as if they had never seen such things before. But I had.

The pictures took me back to the 70s when I was a newlywed crocheting baby booties shaped like sneakers. I had all kinds of fun patterns for baby shoes, and also for stuffed animals. I had graduated from college with a degree in journalism two weeks before we got married, but then I couldn’t get a newspaper job. We were in the middle of a recession, and nobody was hiring. My husband was still in school.

I wound up working part-time stocking shelves in the housewares department at JC Penney. That left a lot of spare time. I spent it watching TV, starting with the early afternoon soap operas, continuing into the talk shows, and then into Star Trek (the original one). Every day. It wasn’t much different from my mother’s life. Between lunch and dinner, she did needlework and watched TV, too. In my mind, that’s what moms did, and I was going to be a mom. Of course. Love, marriage, baby carriage.

I made a ton of baby booties, along with little squirrels and bears, rattles, and tiny hats, which I stashed away for the babies I was sure were coming. No one had ever told me otherwise.

My TV-and-crochet afternoons ended when the people who had loaned us their television took it back. We couldn’t buy our own. We were really poor, so poor Chevron took our one credit card away for non-payment and some days we lived on zucchini and Christmas cheese boxes. Eventually I got a newspaper job. It didn’t pay much, but it got me off the couch.

Decades later, I still have some of those crocheted booties and stuffed animals in the closet. They’re just too cute to throw away. For a while, I thought I’d sell them at boutiques, but I didn’t have enough, and since I wasn’t having any babies, I didn’t feel like making any more.

Silly little things like crocheted baby sneakers can bring all the feelings back. How many of you have made or collected things for future babies? Did you have any doubt at the time that you’d be using them? What do you do with them now?

I never envisioned that I’d be pushing 70, collecting my senior discount at the grocery store as I buy my dog food and dinners for one, nothing for a husband or for kids who might drop in, but that’s where I was yesterday, and those baby sneakers are still in the closet.

I had no idea I wouldn’t live a version of my mother’s life, that the marriage wouldn’t last or that my ex would not want to have children. If I’d known, would I have married him? I hope not. I never thought to ask him, “Hey do you want to have kids?” Or even, “How many kids do you want to have?” Sure, he hustled me into the student health center for birth control pills, but that would end once we got married, wouldn’t it? We’d have lovely brown-eyed, brown-haired babies.

I hope most young women are not as dumb as I was. My advice now to anyone getting serious about a relationship is to ask the questions: Do you want to have kids? How many? How soon? Is there any reason why you might not be able to? You also need to ask about birth control—what is he/she using?—and STDs, maybe not in the same conversation. Ask in a joking way if you need to, but find out. How do you bring it up without risking your relationship? I’m not sure. Choose your moment, but you have to take that chance. If they run away, maybe that will save you a lot of grief.

Most readers here have already gotten into situations where they’re being prevented from having children. Now they need to know whether they should leave or stay. They’re forced to choose between the partner and the children they might, maybe, possibly have with someone else. It’s so hard. If only we had asked sooner.

If only we hadn’t crocheted all those little red squirrels, brown bears, and itty-bitty sneakers.

 

Movies Don’t Reflect our Childless Lives

annie-9314I’m falling asleep at my computer. The needy dog kept me awake last night. She is still unnerved by the wild thunderstorm that rumbled our houses in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Poor Annie was so frightened she squeezed up against the bed, trembling like crazy. Her aged knees, both held together with plates and screws, wouldn’t let her jump up on the bed, and she’s too heavy for me to lift so I leaned over and held her.

I never heard thunder like that here on the Oregon coast before. Lightning flashes pierced my shade, immediately followed by thunder that shook the walls and windows and rattled the roof. It went on and on as I held my dog, saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She disagreed, still shaking. Eventually I got up, stuffed a sedative into a doughy pill pocket and gave it to her. The thunder subsided and we both went back to sleep.

But this morning at 3 a.m., there she was again. “Hey, hey, comfort me.” Sigh. I kissed her nose and tried to go back to sleep, but all the things swirling around in my mind crowded out the fascinating dream I’d been having earlier.

My dog is not my child, but I imagine if I had a child, I would have been awake comforting her in the same way—except she wouldn’t have had to stay on the floor.

I can’t help thinking about that scene in “The Sound of Music” movie where there’s a big storm and all of the kids come piling into Julie Andrew’s bedroom. They climb onto her bed and everybody sings “My Favorite Things.” And then they’re all happy. They weren’t even her kids, although they were destined to become her stepchildren and they would love her completely because their own mother was dead and they desperately needed a mom. In real life, after they escaped the Nazis, Maria and the captain–who was 25 years older than she was!–had three more children together, bringing the total to 10. It was just one big happy family.

Ah, fairy tales. Okay, this really happened, minus the singing and dancing with perfect hair and makeup in the middle of the night, but it was a long time ago. Now I laugh as I imagine the captain’s more realistic response when Maria says she wants a baby of her own. “Are you freaking kidding me? I have seven already.” But he didn’t say that. We don’t know what he said in real life.

I was brought up on movies like “The Sound of Music” and countless other films where the happy endings always included marriage and babies. No wonder some of us feel ripped off now. What the heck happened to our happy endings?

Movies are different today. The characters shoot and swear more than they sing. But they still don’t often give us couples who disagree about having children or just plain can’t have them. Can you name any movies–or TV shows–that do? Let’s try to make a list. Carrie and Big on “Sex and the City,” Bob and Emily on the “Bob Newhart Show.” Who else?

You can find a list of movies and TV shows that include struggles with infertility here at mothermag.com. But there sure are a lot more listings for movies about pregnancy. In movie situations where a couple finds they can’t have children for some reason, either they seem to miraculously get pregnant anyway or they adopt a child, easy peasy. Hey, Hollywood, not everybody gets to have a baby.

It’s twilight-dark at 10 a.m. Another storm is coming. The dog is barking. Must see what’s bugging her now. She is not my child, but when she comes to me in the night, I need to mother her anyway.

Let’s talk movies and TV shows. Have you seen any that reflect our childless by marriage or by circumstance situations? Or is it babies, babies, babies?

 

Dare we ask for more than one child?

Shortly after I was born, my mother used to tell me, Grandpa Fagalde said, “Well, when are you going to have your boy?” Exhausted from giving birth, she wasn’t thrilled about the idea at that moment, but a year and a half later, she gave birth to my brother. Like most of the families on our block, our parents had two children, a boy and a girl. A full set. We fit perfectly in our three-bedroom baby boom houses in the suburbs of San Jose.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Childless by Marriage community. So many people here are hoping, praying and pleading to have a baby, just one, but I suspect we really want a full set, too, which means more than one.

If we only manage to have one, he or she would be an “only child.” Although lone children can thrive, happy to receive all of their parents’ attention, they will go through life without the companionship of another person who has exactly the same family history and who will be around for major family events. They might also provide nieces and nephews for you to cherish. God knows I would hate to have gone through the recent loss of my father without my brother. We were a team throughout that ordeal and he has handled the brunt of the estate management.

In so many situations we read about here, a person would be lucky to have a single child. The partner is already reluctant, or the body is not cooperating. If one sperm and one egg actually get together and if the pregnancy lasts the whole nine months and if the baby is born healthy . . . dare we ask for more than one? Should we just pray for twins?

Sure, having more than one child is double the cost and double the effort. My mother always said she sometimes thought she’d lose her mind those first few years with the two of us both in diapers and into everything while Dad was at work all day. But it was good for us. We always had someone to play with when other kids weren’t around. We fought a lot, but we were united against the world. Now that our parents are gone, we still have each other. I have always wished I had a sister, too, but Mom and Dad didn’t cooperate.

As Catholics, if they were following the rules, my parents would have had more children, but honestly most Catholic couples use birth control of some kind. As a working class family living off my father’s income as an electrician, they would have struggled to take care of a larger family. Two was enough for them.

Many of our readers have married someone who already has children from a previous relationship. So did I. Two of my friends in that situation had one more child together. For medical reasons, they could not have more. Others had more than one. I’m not going to say the children from the second marriage blended perfectly with the kids from the first. They did not turn into the Brady Bunch. They got along, but it was always clear they came from different tribes. But both partners in the marriage got the children they wanted; no one was left childless.

Back to the original question. While we’re asking to have one child, dare we ask for two—or more? What do you think? Are any of you “only children?” Do you wish you had a brother or sister? Would you like to have more than one child with your current partner? Dare you ask? Or would negotiations completely shut down if you went that far?

Driving down the road, I often follow cars with stencils on the back window representing their families. Have you seen them? There’s the mom, the dad, the multiple children and the dog. How many people would we like on our back-window stencil?

I look forward to your comments.

Interesting reading:

“The Rise of the Only Child,” Washington Post, June 19, 2019

 “The Truth About Only Children,” The Guardian, May 31, 2018

 

 

 

Why Didn’t You Answer My Comment?

         Why didn’t I respond? That’s the question I keep asking myself as I go through old posts and comments here at Childless by Marriage. This is the 679th post. (No wonder I have trouble finding a new topic.) Some topics have brought in dozens of comments, some only a few or none. Whenever I write about partners who don’t want kids or about stepchildren, the comments come pouring in. Sometimes I write something that seems just brilliant to me, and . . . nothing. As I comb through the posts for a “best of” compilation, I ponder whether I should skip the ones that raised no comments.
         But let’s talk about commenting on blogs. I read a lot of stuff online. I click a lot of “likes” and “hearts.” But I don’t comment very often. It takes time and thought. It also makes me visible to the author of the blog and its other readers. I often find I don’t have much to say, or if I do, I think it’s dumb. I’m may not want to get involved in an extended discussion. Maybe you can identify with some of these reasons. I totally understand if all you want to do is read. That’s fine.
          But I’m in charge of this blog, and I have set up certain expectations, like that I care about you all. I do. I truly do. But in reading back through the old posts and comments, I’m finding comments filled with worry which no one answered. I want to respond now. I know what I want to say. But it’s years too late. I don’t know what the person’s situation is now, and chances are they would not see my belated comments.
          Why didn’t you answer then, I ask myself. There are times when you readers are having a good discussion and you really don’t need my input. After all, I already had my say in my blog post. Sometimes it’s that I approve the comment on my phone or my tablet where it’s more difficult to write, thinking I’ll post a response when I get back to my computer. And then I forget. At other times, I just don’t know what to say. This is hard stuff.
          All I can do now is try to do better. I always try to approve your comments as soon as WordPress notifies me about them. For recent posts, I have taken the time to edit grammar and spelling mistakes. I will never change the content, but I will make minor changes that make your writing more readable.
         I know you have poured your hearts out. I pledge to respond more often where a response seems needed, if only to reassure you that someone has heard you and cares. I encourage you all to chime in, too. We need to stick together. And if you wrote before in a time of crisis, we would all love to know how things turned out.

***

I have discovered a new source of information, inspiration and information about childlessness. It’s http://www.listennotes.com, a search engine for podcasts. Plug in childless, childless by circumstance, childless stepmom, or some other variation, and you will find hours of good listening.

How Do You Defend Your No-to-Kids Partner?

Your family is ganging up on you about why you don’t have children. “What’s the hangup?” “Don’t you want to have a family?” “Is there something wrong with you?” “Everybody else has them.” “We can’t wait to become grandparents.” Etc.

What do you say? Do you tell them honestly that you don’t have children and may never have children because your spouse or partner doesn’t want them? Do you explain that your mate already has all the children he (or she) needs or that he thinks kids will cramp his style? Or that he believes only a fool would bring children into a world that is going to hell in a handbasket? Do you tell them further that you really do want children and you sit alone in your car and cry about it, but you’re stuck because of your partner?

Is your first response, “Well, sure, I’m going to be honest. I’m going to defend myself. It’s not MY fault.” Wait. Tread carefully here. This is your partner, the person you love, the person to whom you have committed your life. How do you think your family is going to react? Will they just say, “Okay. We understand”? I doubt it. They’re going to hate your partner. And they’re going to think you’re a fool for staying with this person who in every other way is your soul mate. From now on, the relationship between your partner and your family will be tainted. Depending on how your loved ones relate to people, they may jump all over your partner or just quietly seethe and talk trash about him to each other and to you. You will be stuck in the middle.

Has anybody experienced this? Show of hands. Higher. I can’t see you. My family was pretty chill about Fred. They knew he’d been married before, they knew he was older, and I must have told them he’d had a vasectomy. I didn’t have to say he didn’t want any more kids. That was irrelevant. In their eyes, he couldn’t have them.

I didn’t tell the world all the gory details. I’m sure I have mentioned before that my Grandpa Fagalde was especially persistent in asking why we weren’t making babies. Finally, I blurted, “He’s shooting blanks.” Meaning he had no sperm. That stopped the questions forever.

But what if there’s nothing wrong with his sperm or your eggs? To your knowledge, you could get pregnant right now–Excuse us for a half hour. Okay, done. The baby will be ready in nine months–How do you defend the two of you as a unit when the world starts ganging up, demanding answers, demanding action, demanding a baby, especially if that’s what you want, too?

I wish I had the answers to these questions. I don’t. I spent more than 30 years evading the nosy questions. I said, “God had other plans.” “It just didn’t happen.” “We have Fred’s three kids (and a vasectomy).”

I generally believe in honesty, but what happens when that honesty turns your family—or your friends—against your partner and against your decision to stay with that person. You and your partner need to be a team if the relationship is going to last.

Is it possible to get to a place where you can calmly say, holding your loved one’s hand for emphasis, “We have agreed not to have any children, and I hope you will support our decision”? Or maybe, “We already have [Insert names of stepchildren.] I hope you will love them as much as I do.”

It gets a little easier as the years pass and the ability to bear children falls into the past tense. You can say, “We never had any children. Tell me about yours.” Let them think what they will, place the blame wherever they want, but don’t give them time to dwell on it. If you need to elaborate, perhaps just say, “We have had a wonderful life together, just the two of us.”

Time for you to chime in. Have you been put in the position of defending your partner for his/her failure to make you a parent? How have you responded? How have people reacted? Can you support your partner when everyone else seems to be against him/her?What do you suggest childless-by-marriage people say when their love ones insist on answers?

I look forward to some lively comments.

Without Children, What Do We Look Forward To?

We have just welcomed a new month, a new year, and a new decade, another “roaring twenties.” We also had Christmas, but that happens every year. The change of year is a landmark for everyone, but what are the landmarks in our own lives and how are they different because we don’t have children?

Today’s post is inspired by a 2016 comment I found in rereading and editing for a future “Best of Childless by Marriage” book. SilverShil0h, a longtime reader and commenter, was having one of those days when life seemed to offer nothing to look forward to. How many of us have those days? I know I do.

Here is part of what Shil0h wrote:

“We watch other people have new adventures all the time. Preschool for the youngest. The older one is starting junior high, and football is a big deal. Homecoming outfits, a new flute in the house. A friend a couple years older than me just had her third. All of that is a world that my DH and I are only watching from a distance. It’s like one of those old fashioned bank teller windows – a little hole to say hello, a little slot to get the money. We see it all happening and we can talk all we want. But those people behind the window get to decide how much they will give us through that little slot.”

Parents have natural events to look forward to, starting with getting pregnant and the births of their children. Early on, the changes come quickly: first teeth, first words, learning to sit, crawl, stand and walk, potty training. Then comes preschool, elementary school, high school, and college. Parents mark the years with graduations, church ceremonies like baptisms, confirmations and bar mitzvahs. Jobs. Marriage. Grandchildren. Birthdays, holidays. Each event marks not only their children’s life but their own as they become more independent and leave the nest.

But what marks our lives? The first thing that comes to my mind is deaths because I’ve seen so many in my family lately. Death is certainly a marker, too. Losing your grandparents and parents is life-changing, but when you have children, there’s the compensation of something new for everything old that is lost. Your mother died, but your daughter had a baby, you know? Or so I have observed. Me, I just have the dog, and she’s getting old.

So what does mark our childless lives besides death? Graduating from high school and maybe college. Getting a good job. A promotion. Travel. Buying a house. Awards maybe. Surviving an injury or illness, such as cancer.

Our landmarks are our own, not our children’s.

When I think about the biggest events in my life, I count my two marriages and their endings by divorce and death. I count my more important jobs, the 11 different places I have lived, my college degrees, the places I have been, and the books I have published.

But what do I have to look forward to besides dying in 20 or 30 years, if not sooner? More books. I have a new poetry chapbook due out in March. I have other books I’m working on. I’m planning a trip to Texas, also in March. I have never been to Texas. It’s an adventure I can look forward to. I’m thinking I’ll buy a new car this year. Beyond that, I don’t know yet. I look forward to many little things, including lunch pretty soon, but big landmark things? Hey, maybe this year, I’ll meet another Mr. Right. Maybe he’ll have a huge family who will love me like crazy. One can dream.

Speaking of dreaming, what are you looking forward to this year? If there’s nothing, can you create something to look forward to? I know you want to have a baby. Let’s settle that once and for all. It’s 2020. Talk it out with your partner and make a decision that you can live with. Maybe that will give you a new landmark, something you can look back to this year and say, “That’s when that happened.”

But if there will be no children this year, what else can you look forward to? I know if you try, you can come up with something.

Please share in the comments. What have been the landmark events in your life and what are you looking forward to?

SilverShil0h, thank you for being here and for sharing your thoughts.

Happy New Year, dear friends.