No, my dog is not my child substitute

Annie 9215AAnnie turned 11 this month. My dog, the blonde in the picture up above, has been my companion since my late husband Fred and I adopted her and her brother Chico at seven weeks. She weighed six pounds, the same as I weighed when I was born. She was a baby then. Now Chico is gone (long story, click here), and Annie is an old dog. Her muzzle has turned white, her knees are held together with plates and screws, and she’s covered with fatty lumps. In dog years, she’s older than I am now. We only have a few years left, if we’re lucky.

Is Annie my baby, my child, a substitute for the children I never had? No. There are occasions when I get called her mom, times when I might even call myself that, but her mother was a dog, not a human like me. Although we understand each other very well, we don’t speak the same language. I am responsible for her care, but she will not grow up and become an independent adult who might carry on my name and my traditions. She will not drive me to the hospital when something goes wrong. She is a dog.

We are partners in our life here in the woods. Together, we cope with the snow, rain and occasional sun. We eat together and we snuggle on the love seat while I write, watch videos or talk on the phone. She takes me on a walk through the woods every day, rain or shine around 3:00. She knows that’s when I’m ready to leave my desk. We know each other’s ways and rhythms. But she is not my child.

Annie will eat poop, plastic, pens, and paper clips if I don’t stop her. She wakes me up when the thunder scares her. She insists on constant belly rubs. She won’t let me eat without sharing. But she’s a lot less annoying than some people. Plus she’s always up for a hug, and she thinks I’m wonderful. How many 11-year-old humans are that agreeable?

I know there are people who consider dogs and cats their fur babies. I wrote about them in my Childless by Marriage book. Some go so far as to dress them in coats and sweaters and push them in baby strollers. They give birthday parties for their pets. I don’t do that with Annie.

Do I tell Annie she’s the best dog in the world? All the time. Do I tell her I love her? Constantly. Do I take her outside and make sure she goes potty? Every day. But she is not my child. She’s something different but equally wonderful. She is my friend, and I thank God for her.

Annie 82517A.jpg

What is your relationship with your animals? Are they your children? Do they make up for not having them? Do your parents accept them as “grandchildren?”

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The sorrow of a childless ultrasound test

Dear friends,

This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.

But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.

It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .

Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.

Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.

Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.

So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.

I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.

As always, I cherish your comments.

 

Should she leave her childless marriage?

Dear readers,

In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:

“First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.”

In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.

So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay, say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?

Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.

Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.

So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?

***

My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

 

 

 

Hey, some of us are not having babies!

A childless Facebook friend had a horrible experience at the dentist last week. Her hugely pregnant hygienist never stopped talking about her baby and she had to sit while doing the work, forcing my friend into awkward positions. But that wasn’t the worst of it. My friend was having an impression made of her teeth. The hygienist clamped a goop-filled mold onto her teeth. It was supposed to stay on for 15 minutes. The patient waited over 45 minutes while she could hear the hygienist talking to other people in the building about her baby. She knew it was too long but felt helpless to do anything about it. By the time the hygienist came back, the stuff had hardened so much it had to be painfully chipped off. The impression was ruined. I hope the hygienist was fired.

It’s not always that way. The last time I had my teeth cleaned, my hygienist was about to go on maternity leave. Once in a while her belly bumped against me, but she was completely professional and did not talk incessantly about the baby.

I know having a baby is exciting, probably the most exciting thing that can happen to a woman, but sometimes it’s hard to hear.

Another friend recently got pregnant via in vitro treatments. I’m happy for her and praying the pregnancy results in a healthy baby. But do we need a daily report of every symptom and every little doodad you have purchased for the baby? The rest of us are still back in no-baby land.

Today is my great-niece’s first birthday. She lives far away. I can’t get away to see her. My nephew posted a video of her first steps last week. So cute, but I’m missing it all. I will never get to experience the milestones of life with a little one, not my own, not a grandchild, not even my great-niece while all around me people are glorying in babies. Even at my age, that still hurts a lot.

Meanwhile, I’m torn between dog and dad. Annie got her stitches out yesterday. Her incision seems to be healing well. She is walking gingerly on her repaired leg. I’m still afraid to leave her alone for long, but this morning I slept in for the first time in weeks because she can finally take herself outside through her doggie dog. Before, the inflatable collar around her neck made her too wide to get through.

As for Dad, I’m heading back to California Monday for his next appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. Pray the doctor says he can start trying to walk. I don’t know how he’ll survive if he gets bad news again. He hates the nursing home, but we really don’t know if he’ll ever get to go back to living in his own house. Complicating matters, he was being taken to Kaiser yesterday for a bad cough. I’m still waiting to hear what the doctor said. What if it’s something worse? Sunday is Father’s Day. I won’t be there. What if it’s his last? I can’t let my mind go there.

Father’s Day. Childless male readers, I’m sorry about this stupid holiday which causes pain for everyone who isn’t a father or who doesn’t have a living father. Women get more attention for Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day is tough for men, too. As with the women, I suggest that you stay away from social media the whole weekend and get out of town if you can. Don’t expect your stepchildren to honor you. It’s probably not going to happen. Go fishing. Take a hike. Read a good book until it’s over.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this week. What’s on your minds?

 

 

Celebrating Childless by Marriage the book

7d455-childlessbymarriagecoversmallFirst you marry a man who does not want children. He cheats and you divorce him. Then you marry the love of your life and find out he does not want to have children with you either. Although you always wanted to be a mother, you decide he is worth the sacrifice, expecting to have a long, happy life together. But that’s not what happens. This is the story of how a woman becomes childless by marriage and how it affects every aspect of her life.

That’s the description of my book Childless by Marriage, which debuted five years ago this month. At that point, it had a different cover and was only an e-book. The paperback with the current cover came later in the year.

The book tells my story, but I also include interviews of many childless women, as well as things I learned in over a decade of studying childlessness. Chapters include “He Doesn’t Want Children,” “What Have I Done?” Who Knew It was a Sin?” “The Evil Stepmother,” “Exiled from the Mom Club,” “Why Don’t You Have Kids?” “Can a Woman Be a Dog’s Mother,” “Mothering Fred,” “Side Effects of Motherhood” and “What Will I Leave Behind?”

The book has not become the raging bestseller that I dreamed of. The many publishers who rejected it all warned that while it was well-written and covered an important topic, there might not be a big enough audience. Also, it might be depressing. Maybe they were right. But I published it anyway. You can buy it at Amazon.com. Or just send me a check for $15.95 at P.O. Box 755, South Beach, OR 97366, and I’d be happy to mail you a copy.

I hate advertising myself and my books, but that’s part of the writing game these days. You have to build a “platform” and promote, promote, promote. That’s part of why I started this blog, but it has turned into more than just a plank in my platform. We have built a community where we can share our thoughts and feelings freely. It has been almost 10 years since that first post! No wonder I struggle some weeks to find a new topic.

Another part of book promotion is giving talks. To that end, I will be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio the first weekend of October. The most exciting part of the conference for me will be meeting the many other childless/childfree authors whose books I have read, quoted and mentioned here. Anyone can attend. Check out the website for details.

Ten years, five years. So much has happened in all of our lives during those years, right? I feel like everything has changed, but I have no intention of quitting the blog or the book. You all are such a gift to me. Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

Keep coming back, dear readers, and let me know what you’d like to talk about here.

***

As I write this, my dog Annie is a hundred miles away having knee surgery. Over the next few weeks, I will be wrapped up in keeping her comfortable and quiet and preventing her from chewing on her stitches. I suspect I won’t get much sleep. I came home from the veterinary hospital covered in dog fur. Annie drooled all over my car seats. Motherhood, human or animal, is messy! I hope I’m up to the task. Our old dog Sadie had a similar surgery, twice, but my husband Fred was around to help. This time, it’s just me and Annie.

 

Should she stay with her boyfriend who doesn’t want kids?

In responding to a previous post, “They stayed in a childless marriage,” Maria commented:

I see most replies are from people who chose to stay in a marriage. I am not married yet but I love my boyfriend dearly. I know sometimes you’re biased by love but I genuinely think he’s perfect for me in every other aspect. He makes me feel happy, safe, understood, loved. He’s a very caring person and I have never felt like this about anyone. I feel it is very unlikely that I will find someone with as high a compatibility as I have with him. He says he’s unsure about having children because he feels he’s too old (38) and that it would be too great of a lifestyle change. Ultimately the financial burden that comes with children is also something he is concerned about even though he’s more than stable financially. He just wants to retire very comfortably and without much worries at an early age. He even told me that if he won the lottery, he would agree to have children. I am 31 and for most of my adult life, I have known that I wanted children so it breaks my heart to have found a wonderful man and for us not to agree on the one issue for which there is no compromise.

Is there anyone out there who wasn’t married but chose to stay with their significant other that can share their story?

I would like to hear those stories, too. This comment also raises two questions I’d like you to ponder with me.

  1. Is it truly different when you’re not married to the person? You don’t have legal ties, but so often, I hear from readers who are so in love and so sure that this person is “the one” that they can’t imagine leaving. Are the emotional connections more constricting than the so-called bonds of matrimony? Looking from the outside, we might say, “Hey, move on, Maria,” but should she? Can she? And will this issue ultimately keep them from getting married?
  2. What about the money part of it? We know that raising children is expensive. It often requires sacrifice and perhaps working at jobs you’d rather not have. Instead of taking a trip to Europe or enrolling in grad school, you’re paying for braces on your kids’ teeth. My father would say, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But he was born almost a hundred years ago and grew up in an era when everyone had children if they could. How many of you are hearing worries about money as part of the reason why your partners are reluctant to procreate? As Maria suggests, would it be different if they won the lottery and had lots of money? Short of winning the lottery, how can you ease these worries?

Maria isn’t the only one dealing with these issues. I welcome your input. Please comment.

***

My role as dog mom is getting intense. Next week, Annie will be having knee surgery. Read about it on my other blog, Unleashed in Oregon. I’m extremely worried about how I will manage her recovery by myself. The last time I went through this kind of surgery with a dog, my husband was here to help look after her and to lift her into the car when we needed to take her to the vet. Now it’s just me. What if I have to go out and she hurts herself? At this moment, although not having children has left a vast crater where family ought to be, I feel much worse about not having a partner. Something to ponder as you decide what to do with your life.

Thank you all for being here.

 

 

So what if my kid has four legs and a tail?

I walk in the door of the vet’s office, and the receptionist shouts, “Annie’s 736fa-anniebaby2mom is here!” A worker comes into the waiting room. “Are you Annie’s mom?” The vet, her assistant and I crouch down on the floor holding my dog as the vet examines her injured knee. “Annie, look at your mom.” “Now, Mom keep her calm.”

Etc.

I am Anne’s mom. Annie is a dog. A Lab-pit bull mix, tan with a white face. She is my best friend. She is my family. She is my baby. I did not give birth to Annie. Her mother is a dog. But I brought her home when she was seven weeks old, just six pounds. I also adopted her brother, Chico, who was eight pounds. Chico had a need to keep running away and a tendency to attack other dogs. He doesn’t live with us anymore. But at nine years, two months and 17 days, Annie is still my baby. In dog years, we’re almost the same age now. Next year, she’ll be older than me, but I’ll still be her mom.

Annie has torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee. She gets around pretty well on three legs, but she will need surgery. It’s extremely expensive and has to be done out of town. It costs as much as the summer workshop in Lisbon that I decided I couldn’t afford, even with the $950 scholarship they offered. Some people would say forget it; she’s an old dog. Just put her down. No way. She’s my Annie. Except for her knee, she’s healthy and strong. Would you euthanize a human with a bad knee?

I know she’s a dog, but it’s just Annie and me out here in the woods. When I adopted her in 2008, I made a commitment to take care of her for the rest of her life. I became Annie’s mom.

I can’t imagine my life without a dog.

In the world of dog-moms, I never feel childless or left out. I have Annie. I had Chico. Before that, I had Sadie. Many years ago, I had Heidi and cats named Dusty, Poo, and Patches. While Annie and I were waiting for X-rays yesterday, a friend from church came in clutching a tiny dog. Her big dog, Sarah, died this week, and she’s heartbroken. She was donating Sarah’s leftover medication to the vet’s charity. She has human children and grandchildren, but in that situation, we were just dog moms feeling each other’s pain.

I love being Annie’s mom. I know she won’t live forever. But not get her knee fixed? That’s not even open for discussion. It will be a pain. I know because we went through this with Sadie. She blew out both back knees. In addition to the driving and the cost, the convalescence will mean constant monitoring so she doesn’t chew her stitches or jump on her bum leg. It will mean wearing a plastic cone around her head. It will mean many more trips to the vet. But I’m Annie’s mom.

Are you a dog or cat mom? How do you feel about being called their “mom?”

***

This seems to be a time for caregiving. As I have written before, my father broke his leg in March. My posts here have been intermittent because I have been traveling back and forth to California to help him transition from hospital to skilled nursing facility to assisted living. I’m going back next week to be with him when he sees his surgeon. He’s 95. He doesn’t hear well, and he doesn’t always understand. Someone has to be there, and I’m elected. With luck, the doctor will tell him he can start putting weight on the leg. It was a bad break, requiring metal plates and screws to be installed. We’re not sure if he will ever be able to walk normally again or what we will do if he’s wheelchair-bound forever. He just wants to go home. Please pray for him if you’re into that.

These days, I’m leading a double life, caring for my dog and for my dad. If only they were both in the same state. I have very little control over my time or my money lately. I make myself crazy by thinking about how much easier this would be if my husband were still alive and well or if I had grown children to  help. I wonder who will do all this for me if/when I need it. But women are built for caregiving, whether they’re caring for children, elderly parents, or dogs. It feels right.

Note: People at the vet’s office call me “Annie’s Mom,” but often the people caring for my father think I’m his wife. He does not look his age. Maybe I do. 🙂

In spite of the upheaval, I am reading and responding to your comments, so keep them coming.