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?

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Book Review: The Female Assumption

The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story: Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate by Melanie Holmes. CreateSpace, 2014.

I started out feeling that everyone who reads the Childless by Marriage blog must read this book. It’s loaded with information we all need to know while deciding whether or not to have children. Now I’m not so sure. Despite the fact that Holmes has three children, it leans heavily toward the childfree viewpoint and doesn’t much address situations where women who want children are unable to have them. Still, there’s a lot to gain from reading this book. I’ll let you decide.

The Female Assumption includes:

  • Convincing testimony that motherhood is hard. Holmes writes about the lack of personal time and space, the financial cost, and the opportunities lost while providing full-time care. Even though she tries to reassure her own children that she’s very glad to have them, I’d be wondering about that if I were them.
  • Clear information on birth control, including the various methods and myths about how they work. She also goes into abortion and “morning after” options.
  • A list of questions women should ask themselves before considering motherhood. If nothing else, read this section and think about how you would answer these questions, things like: why do you want to be a mother, how much are your feelings about this being influenced by other people, and how would you manage childcare and career if you did have a baby?
  • A discussion of how even in the 21st century, women still do most of the childcare and housekeeping. Until partnerships can become equal, women will still bear more of the burdens of motherhood.
  • “Dirty Little Secrets,” things mothers don’t admit out loud for fear their peers will hate them and their children will feel unwanted. Two examples: “Mothers yearn for time alone,” and “Your ‘stuff’ will never be your own again.”
  • How women are held to a different standard than men. Who questions the validity of male leaders or achievers who don’t have children, yet it happens with women all the time. Holmes suggests women are given an impossible choice: give up everything else to be mothers or live alone, childless, with work as sole consolation.
  • How the American workplace is behind the times, offering lower wages for women and failing to offer paid family leave.
  • The often-negative effects of parenthood on marriages.
  • Examples of successful women who never had children.

As I said, Holmes does not spend much time on infertility or women whose partners are unable or unwilling to have children. She seems to be encouraging readers to remain happily childfree. However, this book does contain a lot of useful information. Holmes really did her research. Read it and use what you need. Skim the rest.

As always, I cherish your comments. Go back and read some of the comments from last week’s post, “Are You Delaying Parenthood Until Conditions are Perfect?” We got some great ones. You can still join the discussion.

With no kids, the buck teeth stop here

Sue selfie Jan 2018I had buck teeth. My top front teeth stuck out, and I may have been called Bucky Beaver every now and then. My parents, kind souls that they were, never said an unkind word about it. They took me to an orthodontist and got the teeth moved into a more ordinary configuration. They got the bottom ones that were jumbled up straightened out, too. When I was 19, they paid for oral surgery to fix a problem inside my lower lip.

None of this was fun. Methods were more primitive back in the 1960s. I had wires attached to metal bands around each tooth, tightened up every few weeks. I wore a headgear at night, rubber bands that squeaked when I opened my mouth, and a retainer which kept the embarrassment going after the bands were removed. My teeth ache just thinking about it. My braces cost a fortune. Mom spent countless afternoons driving me to the orthodontist, and I went through a lot of pain, but it was worth it. Over the years, people have often complimented me on my smile. I know how lucky I am. Not every family can afford any kind of dental care.

Lately, my lower teeth have started jumbling up again. I think I’m stuck with it. Braces are pretty low on my priority list now. Mom isn’t around to take care of it.

But here’s the thing. I was not the first generation in my family to wear braces. It’s very likely that if I had children, they would have inherited my crooked teeth. My mother wore braces. In old photos, it looks like my paternal grandmother, who died before I got a chance to know her, had buck teeth, too. She also wore glasses. I suspect she was nearsighted like me. My other grandmother gave me the Roman nose with the bump shared by most of her siblings.

Heredity. Whether it’s crooked teeth, a giant nose, mental illness or a fatal disease, people pass their traits down through the generations. Of course, some genetic traits are wonderful things. I got my brown eyes and lively mind from my mom, too. I have to credit both parents for my good health. I’m proud to carry on the Avina and Fagalde family lines.

But I’m not carrying them very far. As the end of my branch of the family tree, I won’t pass on either the brown eyes or the buck teeth. My cousins with their many children and my brother with his one biological child are passing on their share, but no one will inherit my exact combination of traits.

Our guest speaker at our writer’s group Sunday shared a piece she wrote about being adopted. She will never know how she came to be the way she is. That seems like such a loss. She and her husband have cats, no kids. Will she wind up being just a “one-off,” no one behind, no one ahead?

Depending on how you look at it, having no one to inherit our genetic traits is either very sad or a relief. My brother’s teeth came out straight. His daughter’s teeth are good. With luck, the buck teeth stop with me.

Do you think about what you are not passing on if you don’t have children? Please share in the comments.

 

Childfree or Childless, We’re All NotMoms

“Are you childless by choice or by chance?” That was the question women asked each other at the NotMom Summit last weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. For once, no one was asking how many children we had or when we were going to start having babies. We already knew that the answers to those questions were none and probably never.

A vast gray area exists between women who have never wanted to have children and women who would give anything to have them, between women who rage about how difficult it is to get a doctor to tie their tubes for permanent sterilization and women who spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments in the hope of getting pregnant. Keynote speaker Jody Day, founder of Gateway-Women, has published a list of “Fifty Ways Not to Be a Mother”  and says she could probably list another 50.

We shared stories of troubled childhoods; physical problems such as fibroid tumors, endometriosis and cancer; spouses who did not want to have children; choosing art over motherhood, and women who just plain didn’t want to have any babies. We laughed and cried at different places depending on where we were in our childless “journey.” When you desperately want a child, it’s difficult to applaud someone who just got her tubes tied or who boasts about being happily childfree.

In her talk, Day told us about an abortion she had early in life when she truly didn’t want to have a child. Later, when she wanted to conceive, she was never able to get pregnant again. Over the years, she said she has worked through her grief and come to a place where she can embrace being childfree.

The other keynote speaker, Marcia Drut-Davis, a bit older than most of us, told us about how she was vilified when she admitted on television that she did not want to have children. Her presentation was hysterically funny, and yet I knew that we had opposite views. Not only do I still wish I had children, but I’m oh-my-God Catholic and actually agree with Pope Francis and his views on family life. And yet, I loved her, and she was sweet to me when we met.

I heard later that Drut-Davis was criticized by some as not really being childfree because she had stepchildren. That’s nuts. Stepchildren are not the same. I expected criticism to come from the childless side. I keep thinking about the woman from Montreal who froze her eggs before having surgery for cancer and has never been able to get pregnant. I see her tears and think, hold on Marcia, do you know how hard it is for her to hear what you’re saying?

We had a pajama party Friday night to view a rough cut of a film titled “To Kid or Not to Kid,” produced by and starring Maxine Trump (no relation!). In the opening scene, she lifts her shirt to show us the scars from surgeries in her teens on her Fallopian tubes and uterus. She is not even sure she can get pregnant, but she wants to make sure she never does because she does not want to be a mother. In the film, she tells her husband and her mother how she feels about having children. We watch as her husband has a vasectomy. She meets with a young woman who has seen one doctor after another trying to have sterilization surgery. No one will do it.

The film is very pro-childfree. I considered going to bed instead of watching the whole thing. After all, so much of it clashes with my religious beliefs and my personal desires. And yet, I was mesmerized and sympathetic. Maxine, sitting there with us in her pajamas, has clearly suffered over this issue and knows how risky it is to open herself up to how the world at large might react in our pro-motherhood society. Her film uncovers many issues that nobody ever talks about.

By choice or by chance? Once we have made our choice or accepted that we will never have children, we have a lot in common. People say stupid things to us: “Why don’t you just adopt?” “You’ll change your mind.” “Women without children are immature and selfish.” We all feel left out when our parent friends are too busy with their kids to spend time with us. We all get sick of looking at other people’s baby pictures. We all worry about ending up old and alone. We’re all minorities in a world full of mothers.

There was considerable talk about the journey from “childless” to “childfree,” about reaching a place where one can celebrate the freedom that comes with not being a parent. I don’t expect to ever declare myself “childfree.” I wanted children and I still feel bad about not having them. The best outcome for me is simply to be at peace with how life turned out and enjoy the many blessings that I have.

At the end of the conference, motivational speaker DeLores Pressley, childless by early hysterectomy, got us dancing and shouting affirmations along the lines of “I am wonderful.” Then she had us form two circles facing each other. Oh boy, one of those touchy-feely exercises, right? We were to look directly into the eyes of the woman across from us for 10 seconds, until DeLores rang a bell, then move to the next woman. At first we giggled and squirmed, but then tears appeared in many of the women’s eyes and we started hugging each other before we moved on. As instructed, I tried to send a silent message. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” My eyes filled with tears, too. It’s okay to cry. It’s also okay to dance.

I will be posting thoughts from the conference for weeks to come. There’s so much to talk about. I gave a general overview of my trip on this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog post. Read it here.

Let me know in the comments what you think about this childfree/childless situation. Can you be friends with someone who is happy to never have kids? Or does it hurt too much? Could you ever reach a place where you declare yourself happy to not have children? Let’s talk about it.

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.

 

 

Childless post 550, same question persists

Dear childless friends,

We seem to have discussed everything there is to discuss about being childless by marriage. This is my 550th post! How many times can we go over the “stay or go” dilemma? The mate, usually the man, doesn’t want kids; you do. Should you leave in the hope of finding someone else or stick around and hope that you can live with the decision or, better, change, his mind? The answer is always: Talk to your mate, be honest about how you feel, and decide which you want more, kids or this partner. Unless the relationship is already a mess or you’ve only been dating for a week and a half. Then the answer seems clear to me. Move on!

Funny nobody has written here about having an affair with someone who would be happy to make babies together. Should she leave to be with the potential baby daddy or get pregnant and tell her husband, “Oops, I guess some sperm slipped through all the layers of birth control”? Is nobody doing that, or does that only happen in fiction? You can tell us anonymously in the comments.

I did date someone who tempted me with the babies we could have. I wasn’t married at the time, but technically he was. The kids he had were gorgeous, and he really hated birth control. But no, he was not the right guy. And once I met Fred, I didn’t want any other man. I never considered leaving him to have babies.

It’s all a done deal for me now. My namesake niece, age 29, is going for the mommy job in a different way. She has just been approved to become a foster mother. A child could be arriving any day. She is not married. She works full-time. How she’s going to do this, I don’t know, but she’ll have plenty of help and advice. Her brother and his wife just had a baby last year, and her mom is over the moon with grandmotherhood. Her cousins and friends keep having babies. Being a strong, assertive young woman, she decided to go for it on her own. She is braver than I ever was.

My cousin and his wife just announced their pregnancy on Facebook. I’m glad for them. This will be their second child and it will be great for their daughter to have a little sister. I added my congratulations to the many congrats pouring in. But it’s all very far away, geographically and in terms of life experiences. I can hear the babies crying and the children playing in the distance, but I’m busy with other things. For the most part, I’m happy. Are there times when it hurts? Yes, especially when I see family photos of women my age surrounded by kids and grandkids. All I’ve got is myself and my dog, and she can’t work the camera. But what’s done is done. I curse for a minute and move on.

Speaking of moving on, I’m delighted that Halloween is over. Aren’t you? This morning, I saw my first TV Christmas ad for kids’ toys. Yikes.

So readers, what have we not talked about here? What concerns about your childless life would you like to see discussed? I’m here for you.

Childless Halloween: Trick or Treat?

37738124 - halloween still life with pumpkins and halloween holiday text
Copyright: alexraths / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s time for kid-centered holidays. Labor Day was no problem. But Halloween is a different story. All those kids whining about costumes and candy. All those proud parents taking pictures of their little ones dressed as pumpkins, Ninja Turtles, or whatever’s hot this year. Carving pumpkins, baking orange-frosted cupcakes, buying sugary treats to hand out at the door. It sounds exhausting.

Yesterday, I asked my hair stylist, mother of four, if she was ready for Halloween. She sighed. “Almost. I still have a few more things to do.” At that moment, I did not mind one bit that I don’t have children. Christmas is bad enough.

Yes, it might be fun to do Halloween with my kids. I might enjoy every minute of it. By now my children would be adults, possibly bringing their own children to my house to show their costumes to “Grandma.” I’d be posting pictures like crazy. But that’s not going to happen. Living out here in the spooky old woods, I don’t even get other people’s kids coming to the door. So I don’t have to buy candy. I still have a few of last year’s Tootsie Pops that I bought in a fit of optimism, but it’s too dark out here. If somebody knocks on the door, it might be a bear.

Remember that even if you had children, you might not see them on Halloween. My father’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all live far away, and he won’t see them on Halloween. Mostly he just worries about trick-or-treaters smashing his plants and trashing his yard.

I could feel sorry for myself on Halloween, but I have choices, as do you. I can go to one of the many events for children and shower them with candy and compliments about their costumes or visit someone who lives in a more child-friendly neighborhood. My late mother-in-law lived in a section of town where people brought their kids by the busload. For several years, she hid in a back room while Fred and I handed out little Hershey Bars for hours. It was fun.

If you live in civilization, you can enjoy decorating your house and yard and offering tricks and treats to the neighborhood kids. Dress up, get silly. If you don’t have a kid, be a kid.

Or put on your own costume and go party with other adults. Karaoke, anyone? Pumpkin-tinis? Dancing to “The Monster Mash?”

If someone is pushing you to watch them and their kids have fun, you can go and be the fun “auntie” or “uncle.” You can also say no, stay home, turn out the porch light and watch “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s okay.

What are your plans for Halloween? Are you looking forward to it or dreading it?