Thank God My Children Won’t Read This

CNF71 CVRIf I had children, they would be mortified. An essay I wrote about sex with my late husband is included in the new issue of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. It’s pretty graphic. I talk about his problems maintaining an erection after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and about my problems with menopausal dryness and the need for lubrication. I even talk about offering him a blow job. OMG. Thank God my parents will never read this. I hope my stepchildren never see it.

Not that the general public reads Creative Nonfiction. Most people can’t even define creative nonfiction: true stories told using the techniques of fiction, such as characters, dialogue, setting, plot, etc. Making it into Creative Nonfiction has been a life goal since I earned my master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction 16 years ago. So career-wise, this is great, but oh my God, do I really want people to know this much about me?

But then you readers here at Childless by Marriage already know so much. If you’ve read my Childless by Marriage book, you already know things I would not want my family to know, things I have never told anyone else.

Editor Lee Gutkind points to my story as an example of things they couldn’t have published even 10 years ago. He’s right. Not in a public journal like CNF. But here at the blog, we’ve always been pretty honest. It’s part of the story.

We are childless by marriage. How does one create a child? Sex. So if we’re not getting pregnant, something involved with sex is preventing it, whether it’s birth control, impotence, infertility, or abortion. In my Creative Nonfiction piece, I talk about stopping coitus to find some lube. When I was younger and with other men, it was about running to the bathroom to insert my diaphragm or grabbing a condom. If we had just kept going, I might be a mother now, but we didn’t. Somebody always stopped the proceedings, said, “We’d better . . .” and we did. Or we switched to an activity that did not include placing penis in vagina.

Now my church, Catholic, says sex is only for making babies. But most Catholics I know use birth control. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about–and probably should.

When you decide to sleep with someone, you immediately need to figure out what you’re doing about birth control, not just to prevent pregnancy but to prevent STDs. If you’re on the pill, you can choose whether or not to mention it, but if you’re using another method, you’ll have to discuss it. You will know whether, at least at that moment, your partner is interested in creating a baby. Which may lead to more long-term choices.

Sex is such a vital part of life, but until recently we didn’t talk about it much, and we certainly didn’t write about it. I’m both embarrassed and proud of my essay. When I wrote it, I thought it was funny. I still think people will get some laughs out of it. But it also shows the realities of middle-aged sex and dementia. Why keep it a secret? Everybody deals with this stuff.

I haven’t read the other pieces in the magazine yet.  is a print publication, not online, and copies haven’t arrived yet. The link will show where you can order a copy.

Some of you have confided that your partners refused to have sex with you. So hurtful! I wonder how many dare to mention their desire for babies while they’re making love. What are those conversations like, when you’re lying together naked and happy? Or are you afraid to mention it for fear of ruining the mood?

I don’t want to turn this into a porn site, and I sure hope I don’t get a lot of filthy responses, but we can be honest here. I’m honestly glad I don’t have children and grandchildren reading about Grandma and Grandpa having sex. Ew, gross.

One of the advantages of being childless, I guess.

I just realized the magazine never asked and I never mentioned whether or not I had children. Interesting.

Thanks for being here.

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Looking back at Childless by Marriage after 12 years

If I were to rewrite my Childless by Marriage book, what would I change? That’s the question I asked myself recently. That book, which I published in 2012, started long before it was published. I have interview notes and pre-Google research from the 1990s. Are the stories I told there still valid? I think they are. Would I write them differently now? Definitely. And that’s the reason I don’t plan to rewrite this book. I might change the cover and work harder on marketing, but I will not be rewriting it.

When I started working on Childless by Marriage, I was much younger. I was still fertile, still married, and actively trying to parent my stepchildren while wondering if I could/should try to have a baby of my own. I was where most of you are.

Years have passed. Now I’m widowed, living alone in the woods with my dog, and old enough for every senior discount that exists. I can deal with other people’s babies. What makes me cry and kick things is not having adult children and grandchildren. Would I want to be pregnant now? No. Too late. The dog and my 97-year-old father are enough to deal with. So no, I couldn’t write that book now, although I can tell you all about this phase.

On the other hand, I believe I’m a better writer, and I know a lot more about childlessness from reading, networking and doing this blog since August 2007. WordPress tells me this is my 671st post. I find it hard to believe. How could I come up with 670 different posts? Is there that much to say? Some days I think it has all been said. Then something else comes to mind. I believe not having children affects every bit of our lives, so maybe we’ll never run out of topics.

With so many published posts, I have an urge to arrange them by topic and put the best ones together in a book. There’s good stuff here. I have dug deeper and deeper to tell my stories, and you have enriched the blog with your stories. Would it be okay to publish your comments? Most readers use made-up names, so you would be anonymous. Shall we call it Childless by Marriage II? If it was a $5 ebook, would you buy a copy?

I have no plans to quit the blog, although it is getting more difficult. I hope people keep buying Childless by Marriage. I’m glad it’s not the only book on the subject now. So many good books have come out in the last five years (see resource list), most self-published because publishers don’t see the audience for such a book. They’re wrong. The number of people without children is large and growing. One out of five ain’t nothing. Maybe it’s time to put our voices out there again.

What do you think? I welcome your comments. And thank you for being here.

Book Review: A Childless Love Story

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis, Forest Avenue Press, 2019.

I want to share this new book with you. For a lot of us who are—or might be—childless by marriage, it’s exactly what we need to read. The book isn’t out yet. The publisher gave me a pre-publication copy to review. But you can pre-order it now, and I highly recommend it.

Finally someone has told the story of what it’s like to be childless because your partner doesn’t want to have kids. Not childless by choice, not childless by infertility, but childless because of who you love. It happens more than people realize, especially when you marry someone who has been married before.

I told a similar story in my Childless by Marriage book, but I took a more journalistic approach, with lots of research and interviews. Shannon lays it out there in a beautifully written love story.

As a farm girl raised in eastern Oregon, Hollis expected to become a mother someday. But, after several failed relationships and a failed marriage, she met Bill, a man who didn’t want children. She pushed as hard as she dared to change his mind, telling him very clearly, “I want to have a baby,” but in the end she had to accept that she needed to enjoy the life she had with the man she loved. It is a life in which they are free to travel, to explore their passions, and to enjoy their many nieces and nephews.

Through the years, she had lots of doubts. Everyone else in her family had children. Her mother warned that she might grow up to be a bitter, lonely old woman. That fear haunted her, even as she began to realize she might be all right without children.

Hollis shares the frightening story of being sexually assaulted when she was 20. She also talks honestly about the friendships she lost because she found it hard to be around while her friends were having babies. The doubts, disappointment, and grief of childlessness are all here, along with the joys and possibilities. If you’re childless or looking at the possibility of being childless, read this. Even people with children and grandchildren will enjoy this book because it’s a good story, the first I hope of many terrific books by my sister Oregonian Jackie Shannon Hollis.

This Particular Happiness will not be released until October, but it is available for pre-orders at https://www.jackieshannonhollis.com/ as well as at Amazon.com. You can enjoy a lot of her writing as well as videos at her website. Check it out.

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Thank you for your kind words and prayers for my father and me. (See last week’s post) At this moment, he is out of the hospital and back at the skilled nursing facility. I’m back in Oregon, so we can only connect by phone. His voice sounds stronger and clearer than it has in months. He seems to have overcome his recent infections, but he still has a lot of issues. Plus, the nursing home lost all his possessions in the upheaval of going to the hospital and coming back to a different room. I ache to be there, so I can tear that place apart looking for his clothes, his bathrobe, his glasses and his electric razor. Grr.

In my post, I compared caregiving to being a mother. In the comments, most readers have insisted it is not the same, not at all, even if both involve diapers, feeding, and sleepless nights. Do you agree? There’s still plenty of time to join the discussion.

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Mother’s Day is Sunday in the U.S. I’m trying to pretend that isn’t happening. It will be hard to ignore when the moms are getting blessed at church. I can’t skip Mass because I’m leading the choir. But you do whatever makes you comfortable. Reach out to the moms in your life, go camping, or watch videos till your eyes hurt. Be good to yourselves. It will all be over on Monday.

Younger wife + older husband with kids = trouble

Dear readers,
Happy 2019. A continuing theme here is the dilemma that occurs when your partner has been married before and already has children. In many cases, they don’t want to have any more. That was my story. So where does that leave you? In response to a comment on my October post on the subject, “Younger Wives, Older Husbands, No Babies,” I received this comment from NH. I want to share it with you and get your reactions.
MDOE37 said: Song and verse….second marriage for both, he was 6 years older with custody of a 13 year old son. Decided a couple years into the marriage that he was done. Raise mine, none for you.

NH responded:

Interesting. I’m in a similar position. Second marriage for both. He is 50, I’m 43. He has three kids from a previous marriage (12, 17, 20), I’m childless NOT by choice. First husband didn’t want them. Made damn sure I would never get pregnant. It was awful. Fast forward 15 years and now I’m remarried. He’s a wonderful man. Initially, he did not want kids and told me so while dating. At that time, I was still brainwashed into thinking I would be a terrible mom anyway (and I was 38), so I didn’t think twice when he asked me to marry him.

Turns out I’m a great momma, even better than Bio Mom (say the 12- and 17-year-olds, plus Dad). The 20-year-old hates me, because Mom has made up all kinds of lies to cover her mistakes. Bio Mom cheated on Dad, many times. Dad had enough and filed for divorce. She didn’t want the kids to find out so brainwashed them into crazy stories, INCLUDING telling them I caused their divorce even though I wasn’t in their life until years later. She was so convincing it took the youngest until this year to realize the timelines didn’t add up. Not joking. Two weeks ago, she told us that of all her friends with divorced parents, she has the most awesome stepmom and a dad that is still around and loves them. She said her mom is the problem. She sees, and doesn’t like what she sees. Eldest still believes the mom, and is pretty mean to the younger two if they don’t fall in line with her lies.

Anyway, my desire to have children kicked into overdrive once I realized I didn’t suck and got closer with the children. DH conceded. We went to a lecture for older adults about fertility. Spoke for 15 minutes with a doctor who told us IVF was the only way. Possibly donor eggs/sperm. That scared the husband, and now he doesn’t want kids anymore. He’s worried about my health, as I’m older, and worried he’ll have a nervous breakdown dealing with his ex, current kids and a new baby. Especially a baby that isn’t his and can’t guarantee if they’ll be healthy because the genetics are not ours. At one point, he told me he loved me so much that he thought we should get divorced so that I could go have a baby on my own, or with a younger man. I lost it.

THAT, on top of the grief and insane depression I’ve had over not being a mother, just crushed me. I went from being really sad, to really sad and angry. I know a lot of it is tied to my first husband and the mind games he used to pull on this subject. I’ve been in therapy and started taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. I was a healthy, thriving, happy single person until coming into this life. I fell in love with someone who does love me, and wants to take care of me for the long haul . . . but he comes with all this baggage (much of which I’m not sharing here). A lot of this came out after we got married, and if I say anything to anyone their first comment is “you should have known.” Ummm, I’m not able to predict the future so how would I have known?

I’ve never married a guy with kids before. Waited a year into our relationship before meeting the kids because I wanted to be sure it was for real. They were very pleasant, until we got engaged. Once the ex found out we were serious, she got to work trying to wreck our relationship, and ruin me. At that time, we had moved in together, were building a house and planning to get married. OMG! Never had to deal with a high conflict ex, never moved somewhere because someone else made the decision and we just had to follow. Lots of “nevers,” and it’s been really hard. He promised me it would get better, and we have made progress, but I think all the bad stuff, and the hormones, and the depression/anxiety have just broken me. I’ve lost myself, feel completely mental, and am so far away from friends and family. I’m alone. There is no one to give me a hug if I’m sad (my husband travels a lot). Now, I feel like I’m giving up my chance to have children.

These kids will never have a mother/child relationship with me. They are grateful I’ve taught them so many things their mother hasn’t (well the younger two), but they’ll always be terrified to show their appreciation because of how Mom will behave if she finds out. Eldest is a tattletale, Mom’s spy. She should be in college, elsewhere, but dropped out. Things were getting so much better, and now are reverting because she moved back home. I’m the evil step-mom again because eldest says so, so my depression is getting worse. My anger is getting worse. I feel like I don’t have any control over my own life. I can’t even control my professional life, because we live in the sticks (not by choice . . . because Mom ran off her with the kids and he followed), so there are no jobs in my field. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a work-from-home position, but it’s entry level and I’m an executive. I have always made things work, my entire life. Adjusted to whatever situation I was in to make it work. This is the first time I feel like I’m constantly fighting to make it work, and it’s not.

In short, I don’t know if LOVE is enough. He is a strong, caring, kind, funny, provider. I love him dearly. He tells me they consider me family, and everyone really does care about me. I do not love dealing with the baggage and how he has chosen not to stand up for his ex’s dumb decisions. My mother-in-law told me he never would AFTER we got married, and said “good luck dealing with that evil B****” . . . and laughed. If I ever complained about not having kids or what I had to deal with, she would just say “You knew, and is nothing ever good enough for you? Can’t you just be happy with my grandkids?” What? Has a childless women EVER received that comment from their MIL before?

I wish I knew how crazy the ex was before we were married. I wish I knew my MIL wasn’t really the funny, kind person she portrayed. I wish I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with it all, and how it would change me.

Now, I feel broken. My anger towards dealing with all of this pain has turned me into a very unhappy, negative person. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. I don’t even know how to look at my days in a positive light. It’s just all gray and cloudy. I didn’t know trying to be a decent stepparent would mean I would get treated like crap for years. I feel lied to and taken advantage of, and now cash strapped because I’ve paid for so much in this household it’s not even funny. No, we don’t share financial accounts. We’ve dealt with too many court/money situations and I don’t want his ex knowing what I do, how much I make and how much I have saved. It’s none of her business. She’s constantly having the kids ask me how much I make. Awesome, huh?

Guess I should have done my research. Now I feel really ignorant. The honeymoon has worn off and we’ve only been together five years, married for three. I’ve heard it takes seven to work out most of the kinks. I don’t know if I can make it to seven years at this rate. But then, I’ll feel like a failure. Divorced again because I made a bad decision and didn’t know what this life would be like.

Does anyone have any advice? Is this what it is like? Does it get better? How do you stay sane when you don’t have a support network near you?

Please help.

Thank you, and terribly sorry for the long note. I happened to stumble across this and felt connected in some way, I guess.

So there it is. Heartbreaking. What advice do you have for NH? Does her story strike familiar chords with you? Please comment. 

 

 

 

 

Put These Childless Books on Your Christmas List

Dear friends,

This week I offer two new books that you might want to put on your Christmas list. Both look at the challenges of not having children in a world where everyone else seems to be obsessing over their babies.

The Childfree Society Club by Jaclyn Jaeger.

I resisted this novel because I’m not part of the happily “childfree” gang. I wanted kids and feel bad about not having them, but the author, who requested that I review it here at Childless by Marriage, insisted it would be all right because one of the characters is dealing with infertility. Well, okay. Actually, there’s plenty of anguishing about the baby-or-no baby decision in this story.

It begins with two 30ish women deciding to form a club for childfree women because their other friends are so busy with their children. The club consists of five women: Samantha, an unmarried divorce lawyer; Ellie, who is married to Phillip, an older man; Sabrina, married to Raj, whose Indian parents are very upset that they have chosen not to have children; Maddie, a gay woman who never wanted kids, and Hannah, who has been trying to get pregnant for five years and would do anything to have a baby.

As the story progresses, Samantha acquires a boyfriend with a child, Phillip suddenly gets the urge to adopt a child, Sabrina and Raj are having marital problems over the baby issue, Maddie finds a new girlfriend, and Hannah gets offered donor eggs.

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. The grammar errors and clichés drove me nuts, the text was nearly all dialogue, and I had trouble keeping the characters straight, BUT I read the whole thing in two days and seriously wish there was more to read. It has kind of a Sex and The City vibe–if you add a younger gay woman to the mix. Great literature it’s not, but it is entertaining, and if you’re struggling over the parenting decision, especially if you and your partner disagree, you might want to read it. Or you might want to start your own club.

Motherhood Missed by Lois Tonkin, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia.

You definitely want to find this book in your Christmas stocking. Finally, finally, finally, someone besides me has written about the many complex ways of being childless “by circumstance,” including being childless by marriage. Tonkin is not childless herself, but she gets it. In this book, after a brilliant overview of the situation, she offers the stories of women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who for one reason or another do not have children. You are bound to find stories you can identify with here. We have women partnered with men who already have children and don’t want more, women who had abortions when they were young and later could not get pregnant again, women for whom the fertile years simply slipped away, and so many more. They tell their stories in their own words, gently edited. This book is beautiful done. It includes a foreward by Jody Day, founder of Gateway-Women and author of her own book, Living the Life Unexpected.

If these books don’t send you, I still have copies of my own Childless by Marriage book. 🙂

Remember, books are easy to wrap and easy to mail.

I’m working my way into Christmas very slowly this year, not feeling the motivation to go nuts with cards, presents, decorations and the rest. I’m not depressed, just not feeling the need to do it all. Maybe if I had children, I’d feel differently. Or maybe I’d let them do it all. How are you doing this holiday season?

You have no kids, so you’re free, right?

Forgive my absence last week. I was in San Jose with my dad. November is going to be off and on for me blogwise. I’m going back for Thanksgiving. There’s no Wi-Fi at Dad’s house (in Silicon Valley!), plus I find it hard to think beyond the next crisis. Too many people are sick and dying on both sides of the state line. When you get to my age, you see that a lot.

Which leads to today’s topic. It ties in with my last post about being childless in a work situation where most of the others have kids. You don’t have to go home to take care of your children, so you can stay late. You can work Christmas. You can go to the conference nobody else wants to go to. If you’d just get with the program and have some kids, you too could claim mom or dad privilege.

Is it the same with the family? You have no kids, so you can take care of Mom or Dad or whoever is in need? 

That sounds harsh. Last week was tough. Although my father’s legs and several other body parts barely function, he is not at the moment dying. In fact, I have come to suspect that he will not die until he wears out every single body part. At 96, he asked the eye doctor if he could pass his driving test next year with just one good eye. What?!! I do all the driving when I’m there, but he’s reserving the right to drive his own car.

We have a fierce love for each other, but he’s a prickly sort, and he hates having other people do things for him, so he is constantly criticizing and catastrophizing. He refuses offers of help. When I arrived last Monday, he was banging on his non-functioning 70-year-old gas heater with a fireplace poker. Call the repair guy, I said. No. Then the toilet started gushing water all over the floor. Call the plumber. No. I took him grocery shopping. How about some fruits and vegetables? No.

Some parents are easy, and some are not. I have to keep reminding myself that I would probably be just as cranky if I could no longer do most of the things I used to do and other people were constantly telling me how to live my life.

What does this have to do with childlessness? I’m getting there. My relationship with my father is fraught with guilt. Although Dad says he doesn’t want me to, I feel (and others in my family feel) that I should move back to San Jose and take care of him. Forget my home, my work, and my friends here. Forget this whole life that I love. I am single and have no kids to worry about, so I’m the one who is supposed to take care of Dad–like the spinsters of old who took care of their parents then died alone.

I have invited him to live with me. He won’t even consider it. He plans to live in his own house until the end.

My brother, God bless him, drives six hours every weekend to visit Dad and help as much as he can. But no one would ever ask him to give up everything to become a full-time caregiver. He has a family and an important job. His wife is not only caring for her 94-year-old mom, but is up to her ears in grandchildren, so she’s not moving in with Dad either.

Ask the one who doesn’t have kids. Right? Have you experienced this?

It’s not just me. Our Catholic pastor, one of seven siblings, moved his mom into the rectory so he could care for her because the others were like, “William can do it. He’s single and has no kids, and we’re busy.”

I keep telling my father he should have had more children, improving the odds of one living nearby and ready to help. Maybe another one would be a plumber. But Catholic or not, he and Mom stopped at two. They were done.

So there’s that. And now the holidays are upon us. The day after Halloween, one of the most child-centered holidays of all, the commercial world declared Christmas. Off we go to family gatherings where we have nothing in common to talk about and no kids to play with their kids. I’m lucky to be old enough that nobody inquires about my plans to have children, but I know many of you will be facing the questions and criticisms of loved ones who just don’t understand.

Or maybe you’ll be at work.

What do you think? Are the childless ones, especially the ones who aren’t married, expected to do the heavy lifting when a family member needs help? I look forward to your comments.

P.S. I thank you for your wonderful comments on last week’s post. They really cheered me up while I was gone.

Birth control decision not so simple

As most of you know, I’m Catholic. I’m not only a parishioner but an employee, so what I’m about to write might get me in trouble, but I woke up this morning knowing I needed to say something.

Basically what I want to say is that too many people and too many institutions, especially churches, don’t even try to understand that some people who would like to have children do not have them, for various reasons, and that our lives do not fit into their neat little boxes. And that it hurts.

Tucked into last week’s church bulletin was a handout about the evils and dangers of birth control. It discusses the physical risks of oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches and IUDs: cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, septic shock . . . scary stuff. Plus, the handout, produced by the U.S. Conference of Bishops (all men), says these methods are actually forms of abortion because they kill the embryo before implantation in the uterus. It doesn’t mention “barrier methods,” such as condoms and diaphragms, but those are also forbidden.

The bishops blame “the pill” for women having sex outside of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and single mothers living in poverty.

In contrast to these horrors, they offer the “fertility awareness” method, whereby couples abstain from sex when the woman is most fertile. This, of course, takes total cooperation by two horny people and assumes the woman has regular, predictable cycles. As I mention in my Childless by Marriage book, one of my friends named her “surprise” son after the priest who prescribed this method for her and her husband.

All of this assumes that we can avoid sex outside of marriage and that within marriage we have husbands or wives who will follow the rules. I don’t know about you, but my partners inside and outside of marriage, including the Catholic ones, would not have gone along with either abstaining or having a bunch of babies. I used birth control—pills, condoms, diaphragms–right up until I married a man who’d had a vasectomy. A vasectomy is also considered a sin.

Despite the church’s mandate, a majority of Catholics use artificial birth control. Numbers vary, with sources offering from 72 to 98 percent of American women. Honestly, the church puts us between a rock and a hard place. How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone who will agree to take a chance on the “natural” method? How many people here at Childless by Marriage are with partners who do not want any children, period? How many are not sure about it so they aren’t willing to take any chances? How many of us would be delighted to throw away our birth control and have a baby, but we fear we’d lose the man or woman we love if we did?

Being alone and past menopause, I no longer have to worry about this, but I know most of you do. I’m not going to preach for or against. Just be aware of the risks and make your own decision.

I don’t want to be excommunicated or lose my job, but I worry about the lack of understanding shown in documents such as this. For some of us, life cannot be boiled down to being alone and chaste or being married and happily making babies. It’s just not that simple.

For more on the Catholic viewpoint, visit www.usccb.org/respectlife.

It’s not just the Catholic Church that doesn’t seem to understand the variables in our life situations. We see it in our government, in our society, and around the dinner table.

What do you think? Have I ruffled some feathers? How do you feel about this? Please share (and don’t tell my pastor).