Photographer assumes we all have kids

The young photographer was bent on selling me a package of photos. I kept saying no. I was only getting my picture taken so that my face would appear in the new church directory. I had no need for an expensive package of 8x10s and 5x7s. Never mind that I was horrified at how I looked in the photos. So wrinkly, my smile so fake, the poses so unnatural.

“Don’t you want to give them to your children and grandchildren?” asked this 20-something fellow with the dark ponytail.

“I don’t have any,” I said.

He sat back, his eyes wide. “Oh!” he said.

Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have oodles of offspring. If my pictures had turned out well, I might have bought some to use as author photos for my books and blogs. The photographer probably never realized I did anything besides mothering.

It’s one of those things people who are not in our situation don’t think about.

I don’t get my photo taken very often. I’m alone a lot. Not a single picture of me was shot at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Most of the pictures I post on Facebook are selfies—and I’m terrible at them.

Once my own church picture was done, I took over at the hostess table, signing people in. My friend Georgia, who has a bunch of offspring, didn’t buy any pictures either. She didn’t like how she looked. On the other hand, a couple from our choir bought lots of pictures to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Some folks brought their whole families, including kids and dogs.

Between arrivals, I had lots of time look around. One of the photographer’s flyers said: “Seniors: Don’t forget photographs for your children and grandchildren.”


I picked the least obnoxious shots for the church directory, pulled off my scarf and my earrings and thanked God it was over.

Ages ago, when my youngest stepson had just moved in with us, my husband’s job offered a family photo deal, so we dressed up and posed in the spotlight. The photographer kept calling me “Mom.” None of my stepchildren called me that. I barely knew the child who was now living with us, and I was really hurting over the fact that I might never have children of my own. I finally told him to knock it off. My name was Sue, not Mom.

We looked good in the photos, but “Mom” looked slightly annoyed. The guy probably called all the women Mom so he wouldn’t have to learn their names. He didn’t know how much that word can sting for those of us who want children and don’t have them.

What are your childless photo experiences?


Thank you for your wonderful responses to my questions in last week’s post about what you’d like to see here. Most want stories about people who have overcome their grief and led happy lives without children. I will be on the lookout for those. Keep the comments and suggestions coming.


I’m preparing to publish my next book, Up Beaver Creek, a novel set here on the Oregon coast. PD, the main character, is childless. After her husband dies, she is starting over with a new name, a new look, and a new location. Things keep going wrong, but she is determined to keep trying. Then the tsunami comes. You can read an excerpt here. 

I am looking for “beta readers,” people who are willing to read the book and answer a questionnaire about it to help me find any loose ends I need to fix. If you are interested, click here to fill out a form to get the process started.


Childless by Marriage Needs Your Input

Dear friends,

I’ll be honest. I have published 607 posts on this Childless by Marriage blog, and I can’t think of anything I haven’t covered. Usually something comes to me, but it hasn’t so far this week. That doesn’t mean I have any intention of quitting. We need each other.

I have been going through old posts—I’m in 2012 right now—fixing dead links, typos and other problems. When I transferred this blog to WordPress from the Blogger platform, some weird stuff sneaked in. It feels good to fix the embarrassing errors. Please let me know when you find mistakes. I can usually repair them in a few keystrokes, but not if I don’t know about them.

I’m thinking I might want to put together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book. I did that with my Unleashed in Oregon blog last year, and it’s nice to have everything in one place. Also, I worry that all of these posts will disappear someday if something goes awry with WordPress or the Internet. My work is my baby, so I stress over these things.

I need your help. I see this blog as more of a conversation than as a place for me to show off my writing. You readers are a critical part of the Childless by Marriage blog, and you are all in different places in your childless journeys. So today I’m asking you to join me in my brainstorming for 2018.

  • What do you want to talk about?
  • What have you not seen here that I should cover?
  • What kinds of posts do you hate? Be honest.
  • Would you like to see less about me and more about other people?
  • Do you like lots of links? Do you click on them?
  • Would you like to address the readers directly in a guest post?
  • Do you have specific ideas for future posts?
  • Do you have questions you want to ask me?

You are a great group of readers. I have had very little trouble with spam or people being mean to each other here. I’m grateful for that. I truly welcome your suggestions. I also hope you will tell me if a link doesn’t work or you can’t read a post on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Please comment here. You can also reach me directly at

Friends make the best kind of family

Hey! We survived the holidays. I spent most of mine either at work or alone at home, so I didn’t have much opportunity to be bothered by people who are obsessed with their kids. By maintaining a sort of tunnel vision, I could ignore all the images of happy family gatherings that did not include me. I dared not dwell on the sadness of not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve and opening my Secret Santa gifts alone—and yes, those presents that showed up on my doorstep in a priority mail box a week before Christmas were the only ones I had to open on Christmas morning.

I gathered a few other gifts along the way from friends at various holiday gatherings, and I am grateful to them, especially to my friend Pat who had earrings custom-made for me on her trip to Mexico and Sandy who welcomed me to her early family Christmas dinner, where I received several wonderful gifts. I got a check from my dad, Portuguese food from my aunt, and Amazon gift certificates from my brother’s family. But nothing under my little tree to unwrap. And the beautiful Christmas stocking my godmother made many years ago remained in the box with the other unused Christmas doodads.

I think I have figured out where the Secret Santa gifts came from. I wasn’t involved in any organizations that did secret gift exchanges, so it was a mystery. None of my friends admitted to it. It had to be someone who could mail the box from Newport, Oregon, just north of where I live. It had to be someone who knew I had a dog named Annie . . .

The senior center. A few months ago, I attended a meeting there for people living alone and concerned about getting the help they needed. We filled out forms that told about our pets, our hobbies, and our interests. We talked about getting together again, but we haven’t so far. I think that list triggered the Secret Santa packages. I’m not going to ask; I want to leave the identity of the gifter a secret for now. If the staff or regulars at the senior center were the ones, I’d like to help next year. It means so much to have someone notice you’re alone and send you gifts without asking for anything back.

This reminds me of the couple from church who used to give me chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Easter because they knew Fred wasn’t around to do it. Ann and Dick. They were in their 80s then. Dick has since died. Ann is disabled now and needs a lot of help, which her neighbors provide. They care for her like family. She has a son somewhere, but he’s not around much.

Friends. The family you create. I think that’s the key to surviving in this world where families are so spread out and so complicated and where it can hurt so much to be the only ones without children. Many of the singers in our church choir went off to see the grandchildren for Christmas or hosted family for the holidays. God bless them. At my house, it was just me and Annie. It was okay. We read, watched videos, walked, ate too much, and relaxed.

When people have children, their holiday activities are pretty much set. They know who they’ll be with and what they’re going to do, whether they want to or not. Those of us who are childless get to choose, and that’s good.

So how were your holidays? What are you looking forward to this year? Have you already blown your new year’s resolutions like I have? Stay on the diet, do yoga every day, practice the piano for an hour . . . Right. Feel free to whine, complain, celebrate or commiserate in the comments. I’m anxious to hear how it’s going.

I leave you with a gift: Jody Day’s anti-New Year’s rant on her Gateway Women page. Read it. I think you’ll identify with some of her feelings.

Hang in there. We’re going to have a good year, in spite of everything.


Being Childless by Unfortunate Timing


When I try to puzzle out why I never had children, I think the real answer is timing. The kids I might have had got lost in the crunch between my divorce and my second marriage. The first marriage fell apart—and probably should never have happened. The second husband was older and already had all the kids he wanted. End of story. Nobody in this story is evil. It just happened that way.

I honestly believe that if husband number one and I had had a better marriage, we would still be together and would have spent Christmas with our grandchildren. Sure, he was reluctant to have children, but I think he would have bowed to pressure from me and his parents eventually. Maybe not. Maybe I’m dreaming. He has had two other wives and didn’t have children with either one of them. But yes, I think it would have happened if not for the cheating, the booze, and the fact that he decided he didn’t love me. He would have been no help with the kids, but they would exist.

Also, my career would be toast. But that’s a whole other story.

One of the guys I dated between marriages was hot to have more babies to add to the two sons he had with his first wife. We were the same age. Our babies would have been beautiful. But that was not a good match either.

No, I immediately knew Fred was “the one.” I thought he was younger. I thought he was still fertile. I thought we’d figure it out . . .

Timing. In this age of multiple marriages, some of us just get caught in-between and lose our chance to be moms. It’s lousy, but it happens.

Have some of you fallen into this situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


My Christmas was good. I was busy with church music and friends. I missed my husband, but I honestly didn’t miss the children I didn’t have as I watched my church choir friends running around like crazy people trying to spend time with everyone and dealing with all kinds of family drama. My friends showered me with love, food and presents.

After Christmas Mass, Annie the dog and I read and napped, watched videos, and took a long walk, wishing Merry Christmas to the neighbor dogs. After four Masses playing church music, I played the piano some more just for fun. With no one else to please, I ate raviolis and Portuguese sausage for dinner, all in the glow of my tiny Christmas tree and the lights I hung around the house.

It was my first Christmas alone without a meltdown. It can be done, dear friends. We can be happy without children. The most important thing for me was to stop comparing my life with everyone else’s. That just leads to pain. So, don’t do it.

I wish you all the best of new years. See you in 2018.


Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

Dear friends,

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I know. I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above the collection of wedding rings and other keepsakes I keep on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

Joe has about a dozen kids, no exaggeration, and countless grandchildren. They will probably take up two or three pews on Christmas Eve. They will probably talk while I’m singing my solo. But he misses his wife, Carmella, and I miss Fred. Having children does not make up for a missing spouse. Joe will be with his kids on Christmas. I will play and sing at four Masses over three days, then come home to Annie and a long nap. I will treat myself to a ravioli and meatballs dinner. Who says it has to be turkey or ham? I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I like raviolis. I will open my gifts from Secret Santa, take Annie for a walk, duty-call the family in California, and be glad Christmas is almost over.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my book, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.


This Childless Dilemma Sounds Familiar

Grace is in her mid-30s, divorced with three children. Her boyfriend has never had children, and he looks forward to becoming a father. No way, says Grace. The baby factory is closed. It’s hard enough taking care of the children she already has. They love each other but they break up.

Meanwhile, her next-door neighbors Wade and Nadine can’t seem to get pregnant. Wade is pretty sure his sperm are the problem. This is Nadine’s fourth marriage, and she’s in her mid-30s, too. She’s terrified she will lose her chance to become a mom.

I don’t know what Wade and Nadine are going to do, but I suspect they’re not going to give up.

Sounds like a lot of people who read this blog, doesn’t it? Actually these are characters in a 1990s TV show, “Grace Under Fire,” which is being offered on Amazon Prime. I’ve been binge-watching episodes for the last couple weeks. (Somebody pry the tablet out of my hands, please.) I loved this show before, and I’m enjoying it again. The characters are so engaging and so funny. The clothes and sets take me back to a happy time in my life. It’s a kick to pick out things from those days. I find myself shouting, “Hey, I have that bowl!” Or “I wore a vest just like that.” I laugh at jokes about then-president Bill Clinton and his first lady Hillary. Things have changed so much.

The problems the characters face are real. Grace’s ex-husband abused her. They were both alcoholics. She’s sober now, but he isn’t. She struggles with money, day-care and the difficulties of dating when you have children. She works in an oil refinery where the women employees face rampant sexism and harassment, just like the many women exposing their bosses and co-workers these days.

Most of you won’t remember “Grace Under Fire.” I didn’t remember much except that I loved it. But I see it differently now. When I watched the episode where Grace and her boyfriend break up, I wanted to stop the show and send a link to all of you. This, this is the crux of our problem. He wants kids; she does not.

“Grace” is not the only show where we see one partner unwilling to have children with the other. Remember on “Friends” where Monica broke up with her boyfriend played by Tom Selleck because he didn’t want to have any more kids and she desperately wanted children. You can watch it here. Later in the series, when she was married to Chandler, they discovered they were infertile and wound up adopting twins.

In the TV world, the characters are very clear about what they want and take action to make sure they get it. I guess it’s a lot easier on TV than it is in real life.

You can watch the scene with Grace and her boyfriend here. The sound isn’t great, but go to about 14:58 to catch the important part. I’m sure there are other TV shows and movies dealing with the same issues. A Google search got me “The Bob Newhart Show” from way back. Can you name some? Let’s make a list.


Remember a while back I wrote about a friend’s daughter whose fiancé had just told her he didn’t want to have children? They were already planning the wedding, and now she didn’t know what to do. You can read about it here. Well, the young woman broke up with the guy. She’s grieving the lost marriage, but now she has a new job that will allow her to travel all over the world. She leaves for Japan on Christmas Day. When she comes home, she’ll figure out what happens next. I’m proud of her for standing up for what she wants and needs in life.

Lost in the Baby Section at Christmas

I did something crazy yesterday. I let the checker at Fred Meyer think I had a close connection to the baby for whom I was buying a Christmas present, a piece of clothing I hope his foster mother, my niece, will like. And please God let it fit. We joked about how he was too young to be “running around” in it, and he wouldn’t be able to speak his objections because he doesn’t talk yet. Ha, ha. Happy grandma me, right? The checker doesn’t know me. I could be a loving grandmother happily buying gifts for my little guy.

As if. I am so lost in the baby section. I don’t know what sizes to get, what’s easy to put on and what’s not, what will last and what will fall apart or be outgrown in a month. I bought some books for my great-niece because my sister-in-law says she’s a big reader, but I don’t know what books she already has. I don’t know what books are appropriate for a two-year-old. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m about as comfortable in the baby department as I am at the hardware store. In both places, I’m sure somebody’s going to figure out I don’t belong and chase me away.

Baby stuff is cute. All those tiny outfits and all those clever toys. I was charmed by a big rabbit with buttons all over. When you push each one, it says something different: “Ouch, my ear.” “Rub my tummy. Etc.” I was sure the baby would love that, but he might already have one or somebody closer might already be buying him one. Plus it was expensive.

In past years with other babies, I have given books, crocheted animals, cuddly toys, rattles, little outfits . . . I have never been the one at Christmas or at baby showers to give the “big gifts,” the strollers, high chairs, christening outfits, stuff like that. No, that goes to the moms, grandmas, and godparents Nor do I give the useful gifts that only moms seem to know about, that lifesaving cream or the only toy that stopped their baby from crying.

Once, back in the hippie days, I made this wild-colored onesie thing out of granny squares that the child, who’s about 50 now, probably never wore. It was probably terribly uncomfortable, and it probably never fit. One spit-up, and it would be ruined. I didn’t know. I saw a crochet pattern and went for it. I’m like the character in “Gone with the Wind” who shrieks, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout babies!”

A lot of you probably do know babies from babysitting jobs, taking care of siblings, or helping with the babies of friends and family, but somehow I never spent much time around babies once I stopped being one myself. So now here I am about to start collecting Social Security and I’m still clueless about little ones. All my references are from my own childhood.

Even if you do know about babies, how do you negotiate the gifts for other people’s kids without buying something the parents will hate, something the child already has, or something that is totally inappropriate? Is it okay to just send money and let somebody else pick out the gift?

Let’s talk about this in the comments. Share your experiences and suggestions for dealing with the Christmas gift dilemma.

I await your comments.