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.


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.


I Finally Stopped Blaming My Husband

Readers: Today we have a guest post by Sharilee Swaity who has published a new book about second marriages. See the link at the end of this post. I already ordered my copy. I think you’ll like this post and you’ll probably have few things to say about it. Enjoy.–Sue

me -- purple shirtFirst, I just wanted to thank Sue so much for allowing me space on her blog to share my story. I have been reading “Childless by Marriage” for a few years now and it was the only place that seemed to understand my feelings on this topic. This is the story of how I came to a greater place of acceptance regarding my spouse’s decision to not have children again.

He was Sorry

One sweltering summer evening, not too long ago, I looked over at my macho husband as he lay quietly on our bed.  With tears in his eyes, he told me he was sorry. That he loved me and knew I deserved children but he just couldn’t do it. This time I listened and finally believed him.

The “having kids argument” had been a constant in our marriage, pulled out of the closet once every two or three months, a battle with no winners and sure tears, hurt feelings and harsh words.

My tirade was sometimes triggered by the sight of a friend with eight kids bragging about their latest escapades. Or the changes in my body that signaled I was getting closer and closer to that time when having children would no longer be an option. Sometimes it was brought on by the difficulties of step parenting his children, a reminder of the lack of my own.

I would come to him, irate, pleading with him, “Don’t you love me? Don’t I deserve children, like every other woman?” My husband would look sad, avoiding my gaze and sitting quietly, his head hanging in shame.

Despite the hurt I saw on his face, the words would always spill out, the darkest thoughts of my heart, that were usually kept tucked safely away.

I am Childless By Marriage

You see, my husband has kids. I do not. I am, as the title of this blog so aptly describes, “childless by marriage.” I have stepchildren, whom I have taken as my own, but they are not mine. I love them dearly but they are their mom’s. And their Dad’s.

When my husband and I got married nine years ago, it was with the understanding that my husband was not able to have any more children because he was not physically able. It was a second marriage for both of us and he came into the marriage with children and a vasectomy.

When I found out about reversal surgery and came to an understanding that it would be theoretically possible for him to maybe have children, I asked him to undertake the procedure. He refused and I felt hurt and angry. Even though the chances of a successful reversal were almost nil and it would have cost $10,000 we did not have, I could not let it go, until that night.

What I came to realize in those few seconds that my husband pleaded with me, with pain in his gaze, is that not only is he physically unable to have children, but he is emotionally unable.

As a child, my husband went through a traumatic inter-racial adoption. He was ripped away from his biological mother at the point when he should have done his strongest bonding. After losing her at one year old, he did not meet her again until he was eighteen years old. He was adopted into a nice family, but he never felt quite connected with either family in the way that most of us take for granted.

Years later, he went through a divorce where he felt ripped away from his own children. Twice he lost a connection that should have been fundamental. Twice his heart was torn out of his chest. And he couldn’t do it again. For him, the thought of having children was irrevocably linked with certain loss.

His Pain Was Real

The moment I believed him, something changed in me and I saw beyond my own pain to see that his pain was devastatingly real, too. And I heard a still, small voice telling me to love him, embrace him. He was the one right in front of me that needed my love. There was no child–but there was him.

I saw with fresh eyes that his fear was just too strong. Just as I could never walk along the ledge of a vertical cliff, or enter a cave filled with bats, he can never again risk losing the most precious thing in his life.

I knew that I had to stop. Stop pushing him to do something that he couldn’t. Stop wishing for something that I didn’t have while ignoring the man that God had placed in my life.

What I saw in that moment of epiphany was that loving this man meant embracing him, fears and all. It meant accepting him, as he accepted me. I looked at him with eyes of compassion and felt a deep sense of connection with this man who loved me.

Does it mean I will never long for a child again or feel a wave of sadness when another acquaintance pops out a baby? Probably not. My own grief about missing out on children is complex and will probably still take time to work out. What it does mean, though, is that I intend to stop blaming him for my state. Blaming him for his brokenness. Blaming him for my own brokenness.

About the Author

Sharilee Swaity has been married to her husband for nine years now. She has two adult stepchildren and two cats. She spends her days writing and marketing her writing. Her book, “Second Marriage: An Insider’s Guide to Hope, Healing & Love” was published in April 2017, and is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99. The book focuses on helping couples who are in a second marriage work through some of the common issues such as healing from the past, accepting their situation and loving their spouse. Sharilee also writes at her blog, Second Chance Love.

To get her free mini eBook for connecting with your spouse when you have no time, sign up here.

Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

Yesterday at lunch I heard that a friend’s daughter’s fiancé has announced he does not want to have children. The person telling me this didn’t want me to say anything about it, and he quickly changed the subject. He was probably supposed to keep it a secret. And he probably didn’t understand why I got so angry.

Why does this happen so much? People keep writing to me about mates who won’t procreate. They share heartbreaking stories, and I don’t know how to comfort them. They ask whether they should leave and look for someone else to make babies with or stay and remain childless. Or will he/she maybe change their mind? They tell me about forced abortions and failed fertility treatments, about parents who complain about not having grandchildren, and about how awful they feel at baby showers and other child-centered events. I remember how I felt in my 30s and 40s. So hurt, so angry. Age has made it easier, but it still hurts. Just last week, I saw a young man down the street and realized I could have had a grandson that age, and oh God, I wanted so bad for it to be true.

I realized that my lunch companions knew nothing about my Childless by Marriage book or this blog. They knew I didn’t have kids, but they didn’t know why. They were both great-grandparents with pictures on their phones to show me. In their world, everyone has children, including people who probably shouldn’t.

I could see they were not following me, so I shut up, but I’m still angry. I have known this young engaged woman since she was little. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and loving. She lived with her fiancé a long time before he proposed marriage. She left her home and family to live on the other side of the U.S. with him. The wedding is soon. She has already made the arrangements, already bought her dress. Now he tells her he doesn’t want children? What is she supposed to do now? I want to throttle the guy. What right does he have to take motherhood away from her? I hope he changes his tune, but the fact that he said it will always be hanging out there. He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?

I hate that this keeps happening.

I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, but I can’t help it.  It’s just not fair.

I know you understand.

Book Review: The Pregnant Pause


The Pregnant Pause by Jane Doucet, published by All My Words, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2017.

Does she want to have a baby? As her 37th birthday approaches, that’s what Rose keeps asking herself. She loves children, but also loves her job. She and her husband don’t have much money, and he won’t commit until she’s sure one way or the other. He feels no pressure. He will still be fertile for many more years. Plus he’s not getting harassed by parents, co-workers and even strangers who want to know why she hasn’t reproduced yet. Nor is he the one to whom his mother gave a book of baby names for Christmas.

Readers of this blog and my Childless by Marriage book will recognize many of the situations Rose faces–the clueless remarks, the friends obsessed with their offspring, the fear of waiting too long, the spouse who won’t commit to parenthood, the wondering if you’re not cut out for motherhood.

In this enjoyable novel, Doucet hits all the familiar notes. Childless or formerly childless readers will nod in sympathy. I especially ached for Rose as she tried to get her husband to explain why he hesitated to have children. He really didn’t want to talk about it (sound familiar?). Rose asks why he doesn’t want children right now. Is it because he thinks he’d be a bad father? No. Is it the loss of sleep? No. He finally admits he doesn’t want the responsibility. What if she got pregnant by accident? Would he leave her? “No, of course not. But I wouldn’t be happy about the situation . . . are we finished with this discussion?”

This self-published book by a long-time Canadian journalist could have benefited from another run through the copy editor to deal with tense inconsistencies and add more life to the dialogue. But bravo to Doucet for offering a novel in which children are not guaranteed. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Doucet’s website:

Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the author.


Have I mentioned the NotMom Summit? It’s a two-day conference happening Oct. 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I will be one of the speakers, along with many of the most active women in the childless/childfree community. Jody Day of Gateway Women is coming all the way from the UK. We’ll have Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman; Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix, Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness, and so many more. Think about coming. For once, you will not be surrounded by moms. For details, visit I would love to see you there.


Readers, We have been getting lots of great comments on recent posts. People are talking about stepchildren, childless women’s roles, Klinefelter’s syndrome and more. Scroll back to past weeks and join the discussions. Or use the search box at right to find subjects you want to read about.

What Happened? Did They Go or Stay?

Dear readers,
I received this email last week. The writer raises an excellent question. We gets lots of comments from people struggling over whether to stay in a childless marriage or leave and hope to find someone else, but we rarely find out what they decided to do. Read what she says.


Dear Sue,
I found your blog a while back and have been reading over posts and comments for days. People talk about leaving or staying, but you never hear if they left and what happened next! I am 35 and have a good marriage with a pretty great man. We have some kinks, but who doesn’t.  He has a son (now 21) that is out of the house and we have a fine relationship. Around the time I turned 35, the urge to have a child overwhelmed me! I am so sad it is hard to get out of the bed on some days. I have seen a counselor and talked to a few friends, but ultimately the decision is mine to stay or go. Everyone says you are almost to the age of no return. You would be hard pressed to find another man you love and to have children. I don’t want to be alone and be the crazy cat lady. I would love to hear from some of your readers that left and if they are happy now or if they regret leaving. Did they find love again and have a family? I feel like I want to leave and have a family, but I am terrified to say those words to my husband and end up alone. Can you help?
Completely Sad

So, readers who have been in this situation, what did you decide and how did it turn out? What advice do you have for “Completely Sad”? Please let us know in the comments.

I wish you all a blessed and happy Easter. If this means hanging out with the family, dealing with all those questions and everybody else’s kids, I hope it won’t be too painful for you. It does get easier. At this point, I’m enjoying the little babies and little kids in the family. I’m also glad I don’t have to take care of them. I wish I had adult children to be with, to love, and to help me when I need it, but that’s a whole other post. I took the childless path.

But you, readers, especially those who were struggling with the stay-or-go decision. What have you decided?

You might want to look back at these previous posts and comments on the subject:

“He already has his kids, but I don’t”

“If they don’t want kids, do you have to break up?”

You’ve got to ask the hard questions

Two days ago, Richa wrote:

I am going through the worst pain of my life. On second day of my marriage my husband told me that he already has two kids so he would not want kids from me. It came to me very shocking. He just announced his decision and never thought what I wanted. Today after 4 years of marriage I keep fighting for kids but he just turns a deaf ear. I have started having menopause and he never ever discusses anything about my pain of being infertile. Many times I talk abt out adoption but he doesn’t even wanna do anything about it.
I loved him but I hate him for this. I am really not a risk taker and because of insecurities that life offers I continue to live with him. But it is really difficult to forgive him for all this.

On the second day of their marriage???

As someone far removed from the situation, I’m thinking I’d be screaming, “Annulment!” But then I try to put myself in her situation on that day. She loves this man. For months or maybe years, she has been planning this wedding and this life together. Now, with the wedding dress not yet put away, the gifts not yet all opened, the ring still new and shiny on her finger, her new husband drops this bomb. She feels stuck. Heartbroken. Disbelieving. Surely he doesn’t mean it. He’ll change his mind.

He didn’t.

Why didn’t he say something sooner? Did he just realize he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of becoming a father? Was he afraid he’d lose her if he told her the truth? Is he just a jerk?

What would you do if you were that woman? From the comments I have received here at Childless by Marriage, I know that some of you ARE that woman or that man who found out after the wedding that you did not feel the same way about having children.

If you’d like to respond to Richa, go to ( and scroll down to the comments.

There are certain questions that need to be asked before a relationship goes too far. Maybe I’m influenced by the finale of “The Bachelor” TV show that happened on Monday. I hope I’m not spoiling anything, but Nick chose Vanessa. Unlike the usual “bachelorettes” who swoon into their engagement as if it were the happy ending of a fairy tale, Vanessa still has lots of questions and concerns and is not ready to plan a wedding until she knows some answers.

I’m with Vanessa. Love is great, but you’ve got to get some things straight before you make a long-term commitment. The following is a list of things you really need to talk about. If your partner refuses, see that as a giant red flag.

  •  How do you feel about having children with me? Do you want them? How soon? How many? What if we have fertility problems? Would you be willing to try in vitro fertilization or other techniques? Would you be willing to adopt children?
  •  Where do you want to live? Would you be willing to relocate? Are there places you would never want to live? Would you be willing to change jobs so we can live where I want or need to be?
  •  What are your goals in life? What do you dream of doing? Do you have a secret desire to be a singer, mountain climber or astronaut? What would you regret never having a chance to do?
  •  Are you religious? What church do you belong to? Would you be open to changing churches or expect me to convert?
  •  Republican or Democrat?
  •  Have you ever been arrested?
  •  Do problems with alcohol, drugs, mental illness or domestic violence run in your family? Do certain diseases run in your family?
  •  How will we handle money? Who will be in charge of the checkbook?
  •  Dog or cat?

It’s funny. We learn our sweethearts’ favorite foods, favorite music, and favorite football teams, but we don’t always know about the things that really matter. If I don’t eat sweet potatoes or okra, so what? But if I won’t set foot in the church that means everything to you, that’s a problem. Likewise, if I say no to the children you have always wanted. Sometimes we don’t ask because we’re afraid the answers will destroy the relationship. They might, but better now than when it’s too late.

So ask the hard questions. Sometimes people will give you the answers you want to hear instead of the honest truth. But push for real answers. It will save a lot of heartache later.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Advertising makes me squirm, but I need to tell you my birthday month $6.50 sale is still going on. You can buy brand new paperback copies of my books Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams and Freelancing for Newspapers for just $6.50, including shipping. Such a deal! Click here for details. Don’t go to Amazon for this sale (but do go there for the e-books). This is just between you and me and Paypal.