He was an Older Man with kids…

Today, as we sit breathing smoke and looking out at orange sky from wildfires burning all over Oregon and California, we have a guest post from “Kimberly.”

I just discovered the term for the grief that has been building up in my throat and tear ducts yesterday as I was scouring the internet for anything to define my current emotional state, and I finally found it: childless by circumstance. Finally a phrase to equate with this heavy unwavering feeling that pervades my soul.

I always wanted kids, since I first taught kindergarteners at Vacation Bible School at the tender age of 13. Sunday school followed that, and I even became a nanny at age 22 to an adorable toddler named Alex. My life was to be filled with kids—dirty diapers, tiny fingers grasping my thumb, wispy, sweaty baby hairs that I would tenderly wipe away and salty tears that would dry up instantly with my hugs.

But then I fell in love at age 27 with a man 10 years my senior, separated from his wife, with 10 and 14-year-old children. We dated on and off for years, a desperate and mesmerizing love story. I tried countless times to move on from him and start a fresh relationship with someone who could give me the safety I craved, complete with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. But he was my soul mate, so I followed my heart and married him finally at age 37. He never wanted more kids and told me so, but I guess I believed that love would eventually change his mind. It didn’t and I accepted that—or I thought I did because I grew to love his children, especially his daughter, like my own. I even bought Natalie her wedding dress.

Then Natalie got pregnant at age 26, and I grew so excited at the thought of becoming a grandmother at age 44. Except once the baby was born, the grief hit me like a tidal wave. Here was what I could never have. The loss of the life I dreamed about was amplified and triggered by her newborn, and I realized I had never told one person in my life how much it hurts to lose my baby dream. I never even whispered it. I just bottled it up into some tiny piece of my heart and hoped that being a stepmother and eventually a grandmother would be enough. No one knows how hard it is to walk in my shoes every day with a profound sense of loss—what a burden I feel—and how lonely it is to be childless by circumstance.

I have a friend right now who is almost 41 and actively trying to get pregnant for the first time. She too married later in life and was never sure if she wanted to have children. But then out of the blue it hit her, that yes, this is the path she wants to go down. Somehow I have become her confidante and the only one she tells about all that she is going through. It never occurs to her how much this might hurt someone like me, someone who never got the chance to have kids. How each time she calls me, I end up sobbing afterwards, how I do not think I am strong enough to support her in this journey, how much I wish that journey was mine.

Kimberly, we do know how you feel because many of us feel the same way. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Well, readers, comments? Commiseration? Hugs?

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Please pray for everyone involved in the western wildfires, including the firefighters and the thousands who have had to leave their homes. The heat is extreme and the wind near-constant. Here on the Oregon coast, the sky is orange and full of smoke, and it’s almost dark at 10 a.m., but we are safe so far.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Childless Suffer ‘Disenfranchised Grief’

On a recent podcast, UK childlessness guru Jody Day and host Kathy Seppi talked about “disenfranchised grief.” We have talked a lot about grief here at Childless by Marriage, but something clicked in me when I heard that.

What is disenfranchised grief? Grief researcher Ken Doka defined it as “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Let me put it another way. You have suffered a loss, such as the chance to have children, but other people just don’t get why you’re hurting or acknowledge your right to grieve.

Seppi, whose Chasing Creation podcast focuses on infertility, said disenfranchised grief is “the feeling you have to prove how much it hurts.”

Jody Day, who is also a psychologist, added, “We want people to see our pain.” Grief changes a person, she says. Our lives might look completely the same from the outside, but grief changes how we feel about it from the inside.

At a site called whatsyourgrief.com, Litsa Williams lists 64 situations where people tend not to acknowledge the right to grieve. They include death of an ex, moving to a new place, losing a friend, and death of a dream. Losing the family you had expected to have certainly fits on that list of things we grieve but other people don’t understand why.

Not long ago, I sang at a funeral for my friend’s husband. I found myself in tears. Not only was I sad for her and missing her husband, who was also my friend, but I felt my own losses–my father, my mother, my husband. But most strongly, as I watched my friend’s adult daughter holding onto her, taking care of her, I kept thinking who will be there for me? Once again, I grieved the loss of the children I never had.

The grief is there. I will always be different from all those people at the funeral who have children. It’s not something I could speak of, certainly not that day, and not something that anyone would have thought about when they saw me trying to wipe away tears around my COVID mask.

I don’t look bereaved. You can’t tell from the outside. I’ve got a pretty good life. But still, that thing is there. Aug. 21, on the first anniversary of my father’s death, I posted a picture of him with me and my brother as babies on Facebook. No one will ever post a picture like that of me, and that hurts.

Childless grief is tricky. If you had a baby who died, you could hold a funeral. You could maybe dress in black and avoid society for a while. But grieving for something that never existed, for the lack of something you wanted with all your heart? People will say buck up, you’ve got a good life, look at all the freedom you have and all the money you’ll save. Right?

If you burst into tears at the office . . . well, you feel like you can’t. You mustn’t. And yet we do want people to see that we’re hurting and to offer comfort. Just like when we were little kids and skinned our knees, we want someone to hug us and bandage our wounds, to acknowledge that we are hurt.

With childlessness, it’s like we didn’t get that doll we saw on the TV commercial; what right do we have to cry and carry on? We want to be held. We want someone to stop the bleeding. We want someone to say we didn’t realize how much it hurt. Here is your doll. Now wash your face and we’ll go get ice cream cones. Isn’t that what we want? Of course it is.

You know what? I think it’s okay to express our grief right out loud. I wanted to have a baby. My heart hurts because I never did. Will you hold me and help me feel better? Let’s say it out loud.

COVID be damned, I want to hug all of you.

Please share your thoughts.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Closing the Door:  Bipolar Disorder and Motherhood 

 Happy Wednesday! Today I offer you an essay by a poet friend who is also childless. This piece previously appeared in an online literary journal called Quiet Storm. As you will see, there are many different ways we can end up not having children. In her note to me, Sherri said that when she told her father she would not be able to have children, he responded, “Get yourself a dog. Dogs are more loyal.” Which they are, but that’s not the point. As always, please feel free to comment.

By Sherri Hope Levine

Sherri Levine I have been grieving over the loss of a dream for many years. The feelings of profound emptiness and sorrow have overwhelmed me. I have always wanted to have a child, and I knew that I would make a wonderful mother. I would break the cycle of critical voices that played a big part of my childhood. Ideally, I would be a loving, nurturing, and accepting parent.

Whenever I see a mother and a child holding hands in the park, or a mother strolling her baby with other mothers, or watch my sister read Harry Potter to her son, I cry out: “Why not me? It’s not fair!” I tell myself to try to move on with my life—to remind myself that I have a loving and supportive partner, family, and friends, that I have a rewarding job teaching English to immigrants and refugees, that I am a passionate and published writer. But is this enough?  Do these things take the place of being a mother? Is this the dream? Is this something I have been dreaming about my whole life?

My mental health has suffered tremendously from bipolar disorder, a chronic mental illness. During my teenage years, I endured severe depression and was hospitalized due to suicide attempts. In my twenties, a psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant, and I immediately shot into a full blown manic and psychotic episode. I was living with my mother at the time. While in a heightened state, I impulsively packed all my belongings and took the train from New York to San Francisco. While living there, I was reckless and impulsive. I slept with many men, spent most of my money, and I lost a lot of weight. When my dad found out I was calling my grandma in the middle of the night to tell her I was an artist and model, he flew me home.

What I didn’t know is once you are committed to a mental hospital, you cannot leave. I didn’t believe this. I thought for sure after I got stabilized, I could leave. At first, the doctors figured out the right combination of medications, and I got better. But then I became depressed. Why was I still there if I was better? I had a tough time coping in there because I saw many sick patients, a lot worse than me. The only way “out” of there was to write. I found poetry. The staff allowed me to sit in an empty room with a computer. And that is what saved me. That was my escape. The staff recognized that I was well enough to take day passes out of the hospital. They came up with a plan for me to attend classes at a local liberal arts college. I worked closely with some very fine poets. My writing improved, and I became a student there. I even graduated without any of my classmates knowing that at the end of the school day, my ride had been a shuttle that took me to a locked mental facility on the outskirts of town.

After I graduated, my friends had moved away, and my sister had relocated to Seattle.  I wanted to live near her, so I moved to Portland, Oregon. Little by little, things started to improve again. I took my medication, entered a master’s degree program, and got my first job as an English teacher at Portland Community College, where I have taught for almost twenty years. I was finally stable, happy, and productive.

After months of rest and recuperation, I felt strong again.  I was ready to settle down, get married. I married a man twelve years younger than me. Another impulsive decision! Then I found out that he didn’t want children.  He didn’t even like children. I was so upset because I knew if I was stable, I could have children. I did everything I was supposed to do to prepare myself for motherhood.  I took my medication, continued my teaching job, ate well, and exercised vigorously. I remember talking to my doctor about medication and pregnancy.  It was a risk, he said, but I would be monitored carefully. Still, my husband wasn’t interested in having children or having sex. He finally did give in, and we tried to get pregnant for a year, but something was wrong. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting pregnant.  By then, my husband had become increasingly withdrawn from me. He stayed at work late, and when he came home, we hardly ever spoke. I was devastated. I wasn’t a mother and my marriage was falling apart. I felt empty.

My husband and I split up. I was alone, without a child. By then, I was in my 40s, and it was too late for me to conceive. I thought about adoption, but I was single, so I knew it would be difficult to raise a child on my own.

Many people can tell you to move on, but it does not help. Letting go is part of the grieving process. Losing someone is the most difficult part of life. I believe that raising a child with a mother who has a chronic mental illness would not be fair to the child or to my family.  It would put a heavy burden on all of us.

I have thought about what it would be like if I did choose to be a mother. I might have to stop taking my medication during the first trimester. This risk could cause me to become manic or depressed. Then, after I gave birth, sleep deprivation could also cause an episode. Who would take care of the baby? My husband who was absent most of the time? My 80-year-old mother? My sister who lives in another city? If I became ill, would I be in the hospital loaded with medication? Would the court take away my child?

Some dreams do not come true. I have had to close the door on the dream of being a mother. It doesn’t mean I don’t still grieve, but the intensity of grieving has waned. I have learned to accept the reality of my situation. I put my efforts into my art and my writing. My work has been published in various journals, and I have been hired to be a poetry editor of a literary magazine. I have a loving partner who has a young son. My friends and family are all around me. I realize that embracing loss is embracing life. As I close the door on my dream, other doors will continue to open.

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Sherri Hope Levine is a poet, artist, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. She received the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize and Oregon Poetry Association’s Poet’s First Prize (Poet’s Choice). Her poetry and other writings have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including CALYXThe Timberline ReviewPoet LoreThe Jewish Literary Journal, and Mizmor Anthology. She founded and hosts Head for the Hills—a monthly poetry series and open mic. Her first book, In These Voices, was published in 2018 by The Poetry Box. She escaped the harsh weather of upstate New York and has been soaking in the Oregon rain ever since.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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Notice anything different about the blog? Yes, the puppy picture is gone. As I polish the “Best of Childless by Marriage” book–and as WordPress makes changes in the formatting software–it seemed like time. I’m still working on making the header type more visible. What do you think of the new look so far? 

Reader Caught in Childless by Marriage Dilemma

   

Readers,

I received this email from “Kristin” over the weekend. At her request, I am sharing it with you. What do you think? What would you do?–Sue

My husband and I have been married about eight months, but were together nearly eight years before we were married. To fully tell this story, I feel like I have to go back in history a little because a portion of our eight-year relationship we spent apart. That breakup was because I was sure I DID want kids and he was (and always has been) sure he did NOT. To be honest, I can’t really say how we came back together, other than we did.

He is my very best friend. I think when we got back together and decided to get married a few years later it was because I genuinely thought I could compromise. I knew he didn’t want kids, and several more years had passed where I’d seen one sibling suffer through a stillbirth and another’s infertility leading to divorce. I rationalized that both of these things were just more examples that you shouldn’t choose a mate based on a desire to have children because “there are no guarantees” in life. I wanted to marry someone because I loved him and didn’t depend on all the “extras” in life.

What I could not have predicted was that by loving someone, building a life with him, and experiencing an even deeper love in this commitment than I had before, I developed a stronger desire to have a child. All of this became very apparent when he scheduled an appointment to have a vasectomy. I felt fine with it until, I didn’t. It hit like the worst wave of depression and devastation I’ve ever felt. We talked about it, and he agreed to cancel the appointment, but ever since then, it has been brewing just under the surface. He doesn’t say it directly, but he alludes to me trying to trap him into pregnancy, frequently saying we are “playing with fire.”

I should add that we have been pregnant once—more of a chemical pregnancy than anything—enough to be positive on a pregnancy test, and then I got my period. It was actually just before we were married and was one of the worst fights we’ve ever had. I know you could say I “shouldn’t have married him” if I knew that, but it didn’t change the fact that I love him. Even the antagonistic child-hating part of him. I can’t lie and say some part of me didn’t subconsciously think that time or a miracle from the Lord would change his mind. I think I also sort of have a false hope because he didn’t go through with the vasectomy yet. Like, he loved me enough to compromise on delaying it and then more false hope came about.

Today we are arguing again—and I am depressed, again. He will list all of the logical reasons why he doesn’t and has not ever wanted a child, and I will fail to articulate my emotions—because that’s all I can say it is now, a feeling. What I guess I wonder is: Will this pass? Is my love for my spouse enough to carry me, to carry us through this “fear of missing out” and whatever else may be rolled up into my desire to have a child right now? I am thankful for the solidarity of knowing that other people experience this, too, but it feels so painful that this is undeniably such a divisive thing. I don’t know how I won’t resent him at some point if I continue to feel this way, and yet a life without him isn’t something I want either. 

HELP

–Kristin 

Well, this is the crux of our “childless by marriage” problem. She wants kids; he does not. She loves him, he loves her, but neither is likely to change their mind. What do they do now? I know many of you have been there, done that. Me too, but my situation was different because Fred was older, a father of three, and he’d already had the vasectomy. I stayed with him, and I’m not sorry. But what advice do you have for Kristin?

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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After more than 700 posts and with a new best-of-the-blog book coming, I am making some changes. I am using a new “header” image, but having troubles with it. The glitches will be fixed ASAP. Meanwhile, stay tuned.

What if We Smashed the Biological Clock?

What if age was not a factor in whether or not to have a baby? What if you could have a baby any time in your life, so there was no pressure to do it before you got into your 40s? How would you feel about your childless-by-marriage situation then? What would you do differently?

No, I don’t know of a new way to postpone menopause. But let’s think about this for a minute.

Last night I listened to a podcast titled “Baby Making and the Fear of Missing Out,” the Aug. 8 episode in a series called “First Time Moms Beyond 35,” hosted by Isabel Prosper. We might not want to listen to most of the episodes because they get into having babies, parenting, and all that stuff we childless people are not doing. But this one really spoke to me.

Guest Courtney Shane, who is an actress, is 43. After several relationships with women and a busy career that made her feel she didn’t have time for motherhood, she married a younger man five years ago and started thinking about having children. At age 40, when she mentioned it to her then-gynecologist, the female doctor laughed and informed her that her chances were poor. Her bedside manner was so bad Shane found a new doctor, a man who encouraged her to go ahead and try.

She had her IUD removed and has started a regimen of daily ovulation checks. But she admits she’s still not sure about her desire to have a baby. The timing is not good. Because of the pandemic, work is scarce, and she doesn’t feel ready. But it’s now or never. “If I was 33, I wouldn’t be trying, no way,” she admits.

In an effort to find others who are feeling like she feels, she went online and found lots of wanna-be mothers trying to conceive. She had to search harder to find women who would admit they were not certain they wanted to do this but the biological clock was counting down the minutes until it would be too late. Once she confessed her own feelings, others began to admit they feel the same way. Shane is still looking for people who want to talk about this situation. She invites us to connect with her on Instagram or Facebook at @itscourtneyshane.

Perhaps because she is an entertainer, this 23-minute podcast was really fun to listen to, but it also addresses an important issue for us here at Childless by Marriage. How does age factor into our situations and our decisions?

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We have received some great responses to last week’s guest post. You can read them here. Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Should she give up motherhood for him?

Last week, I put out call for submissions to the Childless by Marriage blog. This piece from a woman who prefers to called Anonymous arrived yesterday. I am happy to share it with you. I’m sure many of you can identify with her story.–Sue

BY “ANONYMOUS”

Throughout my twenties, I always wanted children, but I wanted adventure first. Kids could wait.

Three years ago, at the age of 29, I decided to do something drastic. I sold my house, my car, gave up my job, said goodbye to my family and moved 10,000 miles across the world to explore Australia.

My intention of backpacking the country fell flat when I met my partner. He’s 50 now, separated, with two teenage children. He is the love of my life. We have a fantastic world together: we live in paradise, we have a sailing boat, we have plans to buy a family home, we share the same hobbies. I have never known love like this, and the 18-year age gap has never bothered us—he acts and looks younger than he is.

My love for this man is so intense that we applied successfully for a partner visa. I sacrificed being with my family to be with my partner, and I’ve had to watch my baby nephew grow through Whatsapp video calls and the odd Facebook photograph.

Two days ago, we were looking at houses on the internet. We began discussing how many bedrooms we would need. I suggested four—room to grow a family and still accommodate a guest room for his current children.

We’ve spoken about children often. I knew I wanted to have children, so I raised the subject early due to his age. I kept hauling the subject into conversation and would always ask him if he wanted more children. He always, always said he was “open to it.” While we looked at these houses, I asked him again. Again, he said he was open to it.

And then . . .

Silly, silly me. I asked him to really think about it. “When you turn 70, our first child might not even be a legal adult. This absolutely isn’t a deal breaker, but are you 100 percent positive that you are open to this idea?”

He said no, he hadn’t thought of it like that, and he didn’t want more children.

Since then, I have cried and cried. I will burst into tears at work. I have no one to speak to about it. There is a pit in my stomach, and I can’t eat, can’t sleep properly. I can’t concentrate at work. I’m drinking too much in the evenings just to numb the pain. I feel like I am coping with a death. I actually had names for my children, and now they are gone. I’ll never know what it’s like to be pregnant, to know a “mother’s love.” I have just started crying again as I type.

I was wrong. I think it may be a deal breaker. I knew before that we might not end up having children, but that is so very different from knowing that we will not.

I can barely speak to my partner. He doesn’t understand, didn’t realize how much it meant to me. I am so angry with him. I feel as if I have been betrayed, as if I’ve wasted two years of my waning fertile years with a man who never put enough thought into the implications of having children in his fifties. I’m offended that he didn’t spend any time considering something which, I feel, I had made quite clear was important to me.

I do not love his children, and they are too grown up to need anything from me. Why was his difficult ex good enough to have children with, but not me? Why do I get that gift taken away? It’s not fair. He has his legacy in his two kids, and I have, what? Not even a nephew that I can help take care of because, oh yeah, I gave up that part of my life to stay in this relationship.

I won’t be part of a yummy mummy’s club, I won’t get to make a photo album to embarrass my kids with later in life. Instead, I’ll have to watch families grow around me, friends fall pregnant . . . my partner gazing proudly at his boy and his girl.

I am so bitter and so lost. I do not know what to do.

Oh, Anonymous. As I told her privately, nothing she has done is irreversible. She can leave this man, go home, and start fresh. Would it be painful? Incredibly, but she would not have to give up her chance to be a mother.

Dear readers, what comments or advice do you have for Anonymous in Australia?

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

 

Childlessness by Marriage Gets Little Press

I have been racking my brain trying to find a subject for today’s blog, and I’m coming up dry. Plus I’m distracted. Why?

  • Four friends have died this month, and another is on his way out. Every phone call or text makes me jump.
  • I have been spending hours working on the “best of Childless by Marriage” book, which is getting close to finished. It feels like we have covered everything already, but I know there are more stories out there. (See below)
  • I’m getting ready for a writer’s conference I’m working at this weekend—all online, which requires multiple training sessions. My writerly Zoom schedule is busier than my pre-COVID schedule, and the hours, designed to accommodate all time zones, are worse.
  • I’m going crazy with something called Restless Legs Syndrome. I don’t usually talk about this, but it’s running my life these days. Do any of you have it? Basically, it’s an irresistible urge to move one’s legs, caused by a neurological problem. It’s not fatal but totally crazy-making. I finally tried medication for it; it made it worse instead of better. The doc kept raising the dose until I was too dizzy and nauseated to function. Now I’m tapering off because it’s so addictive you can’t just stop. For hours at a time, usually in the evening, I cannot sit still. Not for five minutes. This thing, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, can be hereditary, so thank God I didn’t pass it down to my children.

In searching for good things to share with you, this podcast at “Remotely Relatable” sounded promising: “How Many Goldfish Equal a Child?” Once we get past the chit-chat and into the topic, we learn that neither Julie nor Stephanie, both in their 30s, ever wanted children. Julie had her tubes tied at age 30 to make sure she never got pregnant. Yes, her mother is still saving her stuffed animals for future grandchildren, but it’s not going to happen. Stephanie still has intact tubes, but she has never wanted children ever. So, these are not our people.

They did talk about how hard it is for millennials to fit children into their lives, what with student loans, careers, and the major events that have happened in their lifetimes—9/11, Recession, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic . . . We need a village to raise children, they said, but they can’t seem to find that village. Lots of us can identify with all that, but still, they didn’t want kids.

Oh, here’s an article about writer dealing with the decision. Nope, this won’t work either. Another woman with no urge to be a mother, she cites childfree actress Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City as her role model. She says all these people who think women have to have children to be happy should just back off.

Where does that leave those of us who are childless by marriage, who actually wanted children? Those of us who are childless because our partners wouldn’t or couldn’t are still in that rarely-talked-about but oh-so-common situation that nobody seems to acknowledge except those of us who are in it. Do you see your situation mirrored anywhere in the media besides here? Who are our role models? Where is our podcast?

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Would you like to write a guest post for this blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Nor will I accept posts that advertise a service or product. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing, but those that are published will receive a loving reception from our CBM readers. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

 

Are You Settling Too Soon for a Childless Life?

The other day, I listened to a podcast by dating coach Evan Marc Katz titled “8 Red Flags That Should Send You Running from a Man.” In this episode, childlessness is only a small part of the discussion, but Katz brought up an issue I think we need to talk about here. And that is people, women or men, who settle for partners who are less than ideal because they feel like they have to, that they will never find anybody else who will love them. Some have low self-esteem. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m too old. Others figure this relationship is THE ONE, when maybe it’s not.

He talks about a woman, Elise, who is a “settler,” who will give up her whole life for a man who is not sure he wants to get married or to have kids, and another woman named Sherry who is so picky nobody measures up to her standards. That’s a problem, too, but for today, let’s stick with the “settlers.” I used to be one of those. I felt like I could only get the loser guys. The cute, popular, smart ones with good career prospects wouldn’t want nerdy me. Oh, I could tell you stories about men I went out with, but I won’t. Let’s just say, if my parents were picking a guy for me, it wouldn’t be any of them.

Nor would it be my first husband, who made a negative impression early on by getting slap-happy drunk at my cousin’s wedding, then quit his job and flunked out of college. . . Then there was that time he sat in the car rather than visit my beloved grandfather . . . And oh, yeah, he cheated on me and he didn’t want kids. But I thought this was the guy. I had doubts, but I didn’t have the whatever-it-takes to stand up for myself and say, hey, this is not what I want in a husband. And maybe I need to live my own life for a while before settling with a man with whom I have nothing in common, except sex. Yes, I loved him, but he didn’t treat me like a man who loved ME should have, and I knew that. I settled.

It’s funny. I didn’t settle with jobs. I quit an awful lot of jobs, I admit it. My resume is crazy. But I’d get in there, find myself miserable, and say, “Oh, hell no.” I looked for something better. And I found it. Why didn’t I do that with men?

Long afterward, my ex and I agreed we would have had a great affair, but we shouldn’t have gotten married. Unfortunately, nice girls didn’t do that in those days. Which is how so many wound up with men who were less than ideal. But we have choices now. We do. Anyone who wants to marry me in the future would have to be AMAZING. I am not going to settle.

I lucked out with my second husband, Fred. But again, you should have seen who else I dated before he came along.

In comments here over the last 13 years, I have read so many stories of people, mostly women but not all, who gave up everything to be with a guy–home, country, family, career, and yes, dreams of having children. Sure, they were in love, but is that enough? Don’t we have the right to say, “No, let me look around a little more?” We’re so insecure, so afraid of being alone, that we settle. It’s like settling for shoes that don’t fit. They are always going to hurt, no matter how we try to stretch them out.

I’m on your side, but I see people here settling, and the old would-be wise woman in me wants to scream, “No! Don’t settle.”

What do you think? Have you settled? Are you now? Can you see other possibilities? Why not?

Let’s talk about this. Oh, and give this guy’s podcast a listen or just read the transcript at the link. Katz calls him the “dating coach for strong successful women.” He’s entertaining. If you decide to try his services, that’s between you and your computer.

The Cool Things Childless Women Do

Sorry I’m a day late. This is the first morning in two weeks that I haven’t felt horrible. Nope, not COVID-19. Let’s just call it a malfunctioning body part and a bad reaction to new medication. And then last night, after adjusting my prescription, hallelujah, I felt human again. I slept soundly and woke up ready to write. Whew.

What does this have to do with being childless? Nothing really. Even if I had a grown child nearby, he or she couldn’t have helped me—unless one of them was a neurologist. The biggest help was my friends offering advice and sympathy via texts and Facebook and my new doctor being concerned and available by email. Thank you, Dr. G.

Today’s post is a potluck meal, a little lasagna, a little potato salad, some brownies . . .

I’m finding that my friends know me so much better than my family. I suspect it would be the same if I had kids. I’d be “Mom” and “Grandma” to them, not Sue the writer and musician. Or the dog-mom. Annie is getting too heavy for me to lift. Yesterday after a beautiful walk in the woods, I couldn’t get her back into the Honda. We stood in the parking lot and stared at each other. Now what? Yes, a husband or a grown child could have lifted all 75 flailing pounds of her right up in the car, but we figured it out. I gave one more heave-ho, and she was in. Then I drove home and ordered a ramp from Amazon.

Let me tell you about a couple of very special childless women.

I encountered Kate Greene in a new book I was asked to review titled Once Upon a Time I lived on Mars. Science writer Greene, married to a woman and childless, had always wanted to be an astronaut. She came close by joining a simulated Mars mission, living with five others in a geodesic dome on a volcano in Hawaii. They stayed inside, seeing no one else, ate astronaut food, and did science experiments while experiencing what it would be like to be isolated from sunlight, freedom and family for months. It’s fascinating stuff, especially at a time when many of us have been sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. Not having children was one of the things that allowed Green the freedom to do this.

Catherine-RickboneI also want to tell you about Catherine Rickbone, who has just retired at age 74 as director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts. She never had children either. She has four college degrees, and worked a variety of jobs, including teaching, marketing and public relations before taking the OCCA job. She’s also a singer and poet. A natural with her booming voice, she has hosted a radio show on the arts for years. Supervising not only local activities at the Performing Arts and Visual Arts centers in Newport but overseeing arts all along the Oregon coast, she has been extremely busy for years, dashing into our writers’ meetings at the last second, out of breath but smiling. I’m hoping she can relax a bit now, but I know she’ll keep busy. As for children, when did she ever have time? Listen to one of her poems here. Read about her here. The article was written by my friend Lori Tobias, a longtime newspaper reporter who is also childless and whose book, Storm Beat, is about to come out and become a best-seller.

I’m telling you those of us without kids can do some cool things.

Thanks for being here. Socially distanced hugs all round.

AT LEAST THE KIDS WON’T BE BOSSING US AROUND

“Mom, don’t go out. Get somebody else to buy your groceries. It’s not safe out there with the coronavirus and all. At your age, you’re in the high-risk group. Just wait till I can come and take care of it.” “You did what? Don’t go walking alone! What if you fall and break a hip?” “Are you wearing your alert button?” “You can’t keep living in that house, Mom. I know this nice senior community . . .”

You, being younger, may be the one saying these things. I understand. I have been the child bossing the parent. Well, in my case, more like cajoling, playing “good cop” while my brother was the bossy one. Our father ignored us both until he literally could not move on his own and had to give in. Before that, if you pushed too hard, he’d bite you like a rattlesnake.

He can’t, you can’t, you’re too old, you have to stop driving . . .

What makes people do this? I think we get scared. We see our parents failing and we don’t want to lose them. We also see our responsibilities increasing and want to lighten them.

If I had a grown child—or my late father—watching me as I climbed on a chair to fix the clock the other day, they would have had a stroke. Dad was always sure I’d fall. “I’m fine,” I’d say, but he would remember that one relative who fell off a chair in her kitchen, struck her head, and went blind.

Now, I know that I’m the same aging woman with osteoporosis, arthritis and a raging bout of plantar fasciitis who was using a cane to get around earlier in the day, but I was warmed up now, and who else was going to adjust the damned Mickey Mouse clock my late husband left behind?

When we’re little, we think our parents can do anything. Then we grow up and think we can do everything. One day, we realize we’re all faking it. Then we find ourselves standing on a chair feeling our legs shake as we move the minute hand a little farther down Mickey’s thigh. But we won’t tell our kids because we want to adjust our own clocks. What if the son or daughter doesn’t like the Mickey Mouse clock and thinks we should get rid of it?

That’s if we have a son or daughter, which we don’t. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful not to have grown children telling me what to do.

I’m rambling while I sit in the sun with a robin on the nearby fence preening his red chest feathers—and maybe taking a break from his own children. I hear another robin singing from the tree across the yard. His mate?

Back to those imaginary children of my own. They would scold me for not putting on suntan lotion and a hat. They’d be right, too. I’m getting burnt, but I wanted to get to the writing. And it’s worth it. Sitting here next to the purple foxglove with the robin nearby and the sun warming me to the marrow feels glorious.

Not having children means enjoying old age without grown offspring telling you what to do. Your friends might nudge you a bit, but they’re just as stubborn as you are and dealing with the same challenges, so unless you have dementia, God forbid, they’ll let you make your own choices. I like this. I know that’s what my father wanted, which is why he lived at home alone for so long, to 96. He got hurt quite often—the paramedics knew him well-—but in between, he could sit in his patio watching his own robins, tending his geraniums and his artichoke plants, and feeling the sun warm his bones. He was still king of his own domain.

The robin is looking toward the tree now. Maybe he’s thinking about checking in. Maybe he’s waiting for me to move so he can go back to pulling worms out of the grass. I will. I’m hot.

So it’s good that we don’t have adult children bossing us around. In these coronavirus days, I hear about more bossy sons and daughters than ever, but most of the time they’re communicating by phone or Facetime so they can’t offer any concrete physical help. That means my parent friends are in the same situation as we childless folks have always been, depending on friends who live nearby.

I don’t want babies these days, except to visit with as Grandma or Great-Grandma. I like my sleep, and I like my antique glass collection, but there are certainly times when I wish I had an adult child or two to help me with things, whether it’s moving furniture or figuring out what to do about the health insurance company denying my claim. The chores pile up, I am constantly behind, and . . . But wait, are my friends’ children really helping with any of that stuff? Not that I can see. They’re busy with their own lives.

It would be nice if I had kids to throw me a birthday party and make me a cake with “Mom” written in gooey frosting. I’d like to know that someone was around to take over when I died. I’d like to look at someone and see my mother’s eyes, my father’s chin, hear my husband’s deep voice . . .

But I don’t want to be bossed around. I fully intend to be one of those stubborn old ladies who watches out for herself as long as she possibly can. And then?

Let’s just watch Mr. Robin pull worms out of my raggedy lawn and listen to Mrs. Robin sing to her chicks.

Your thoughts?

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: As I have mentioned before, I’m putting together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book from the blog. I am including many of your comments, all anonymous or by first names only. Many of you are better writers than I am. If you have any objection to having those comments in a book, both print and online, please let me know at sufalick@gmail.com, and I will remove them. I don’t want this to be an issue later, so please speak up soon. I am almost finished with the book. Thank you.