Can a childless novelist write about moms?

An early reader of my new novel Up Beaver Creek, coming out in June, thanked me for writing about a woman who has no children. My protagonist, who calls herself PD, is unable to conceive with her husband. They are starting to look into adoption when he is diagnosed with cancer. He dies, and she moves west to the Oregon coast to start a new life as a musician. Lots of things happen along the way to make it interesting, but none of it is about having babies.

PD meets a colorful group of new friends, including a lesbian couple, a bipolar man who has created a garden out of glass and cast-offs, a young soprano who becomes her best friend, and a music store owner who likes to jam.

Most of the characters don’t have children. Even for those who do, the children do not play a big role in this book. Did I do this on purpose? No, I think it’s the just the way I see life. I do not live in the circle of mothers and grandmothers. I occupy the circle of women who live alone. Occasionally those circles cross. Is this a handicap? Can I write about something I have never experienced? I worry about that sometimes.

Ages ago, I wrote a never-to-be-published novel titled Alice in Babyland. I was still fertile back then. Our main character, Alice, is surrounded by people having babies. It’s driving her nuts. It’s not a very good novel, but it’s how I was feeling at the time.

My published novel Azorean Dreams ends with Chelsea and Simão getting married and preparing to “start a family.” You just know they’re going to have a flock of Portuguese kids. But readers will have to imagine that part.

I have been rewriting another novel I’m calling Rum and Coke. The characters do have children. One of them is pregnant. I’m struggling to get it right, to make the children real people and the relationships and challenges among parents, grandparents and kids authentic. I will never know how it feels from the inside, only from the outside. There are a lot of other things I have never experienced. I count on research, observation, and imagination to write about them. Can I do that with motherhood? I sure hope so.

Think about the books you have read or, if you don’t read books, the movies and TV shows you watch. How often are people portrayed as permanently childless by choice or by chance? We see a lot of single parents and a lot of couples with kids, but how many do we see without children?

The book I just finished reading yesterday, Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas, has no children, but the characters are mostly college students under age 25. Presumably, they’ll think about that later. In the book before that, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, nobody was talking about babies, either, but Louisa was very young, and Will was a quadriplegic contemplating suicide. The focus was on making him want to stay alive. I have ordered the sequel, After You. We’ll see if babies show up there. (If you have read it, don’t tell me.)

Is the tide turning? Are we getting more books where the characters are not moms and dads? Is fiction beginning to reflect the fact that one out of five women in the U.S. and other developed nations is not having children and the number seems to be growing?

I’m pleased to offer PD as a strong, childless woman. I hope that not being a mother doesn’t mean I can’t write about mothers or anyone else.

Your thoughts?


I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Because it’s my birthday month, I’m offering you a present. A native American friend of mine has demonstrated the glory of the potlatch, where she showers her friends with gifts on her birthdays. I could never match her generosity, but I am offering a major book sale. For the month of March, you can buy paperback copies of Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, and the original edition of my novel Azorean Dreams for $6.50 each, including shipping and handling. That’s less than half price. The first five people to order will also receive a copy of The Dog Ate It, a limited-edition chapbook full of poems and photos about dogs. To order these books at the special price, go to this page at my website. Do not go to, where they are still charging full price. This does not apply to my e-books. They are already deeply discounted. Help me clear out the old books to make room for the new ones to come.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.