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.

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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?

Is adoption an option for you? Why not?

We haven’t spoken much about adoption here. Perhaps it’s irrelevant in cases where one partner doesn’t want to have children for whatever reason. A baby is a baby, a child is a child, and they don’t want one. But for couples who don’t have children because of infertility or a health problem, adoption would seem to be an option. I’m betting many of us have been asked: “Why don’t you adopt?”

Fred and I considered it before he decided he didn’t want to do kids with me at all. His older two children from his first marriage were both adopted. Fred and his first wife thought they could not conceive. Then, surprise, when she was 38 and he was 40, she got pregnant, and Michael was born. After which Fred got a vasectomy.

The older two children were adopted as infants from government agencies in the 1960s. Fred and Annette were give only the most basic information: nationality and health, no names or background. An effort was made in those days to match parents to children in terms of looks and ethnicity. Overall, it worked pretty well. When Michael came along in the ‘70s, his siblings were jealous. He looked just like his dad, and they felt that he got all the goodies. Of course by then their parents were older and financially better off.

When we got together, the older kids were in their teens and Michael was turning 7. We looked into adopting the way Fred and Annette had done before. We discovered that Fred, in his late 40s, was too old. Although we had friends who were adopting from other countries or by private agencies, we didn’t pursue it any further.

Fred wasn’t anxious to start over with a new baby. But for me, it was something else. I wanted children who were biologically connected to me and my family through all the generations. I wanted them to share my ethnicity and my physical characteristics combined with Fred’s. I wanted people to look at us and see the connection. I wanted a child who was part of me. If I couldn’t have that, well, never mind. I didn’t want just any babies; I wanted my babies.

Selfish? Perhaps. I know there are children who need parents, and I’m glad there are people willing to take them into their homes. Right now my niece is going through the process to become a foster mother. She’s single, 29, and braver than I will ever be.

Adoption is not easy or inexpensive. Couples who have spent years trying to get pregnant may already be drained of hope and cash. Prospective parents have to jump through a lot of hoops to be approved. Adoptions fall through, sometimes several times before parents get to bring home a child. Adopted children always have that other family out there somewhere, and they come with a big set of unknowns about their physical and mental background that may surface later. They’re yours but not quite.

And yet, it can be wonderful. I have seen beautiful adoptive families in which biology doesn’t make a bit of difference. But it would for me.

What about you? Have you thought about adoption? Would you do it? Why or why not? Does it matter if they’re not biologically yours?

Additional reading:

This post from loribeth, who blogs at The Road Less Traveled, got me thinking about adoption:  March 15, 2015: “The A word: Why we didn’t adopt”

General information about adoption: National Adoption Center (promotes adoption from foster)

Adoption Fact Sheet offers lots of good into. Adopting from China costs $20,000 or more!

Statistics about abortion: https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/adoption_stats

“What Does It Take to Adopt a Child in Britain?” Stories of three adoptive families in the UK

Childless and Keeping My Secret

So, we’re at this restaurant, sitting outside, a big happy group of writers attending a workshop at the University of Arizona. Each of us submitted a prize-winning essay to get here. All day, we have been discussing the craft of writing and the writing life. We feel like equals despite varying ages and the fact that we come from all over the U.S. But now, the workshop on break, cocktails in hand, I realize that everyone is talking about their children. They’re talking schools, toddlers vs. teens, funny and frustrating things their kids do. They’re showing pictures on their phones. Suddenly I don’t fit in.

Seated in the corner, I smile and nod as if I too left a house full of kids at home. I do not want to confess that I am different, so I eat my salmon and cornbread and pretend I’m not. I also don’t admit that I do not struggle to find time to write. I struggle to fill the bottomless well of time I have at home when it’s just me and the dog. They know my husband died because that’s what my essay is about. Bad enough that I’m a widow and I’m one of the oldest people here. I am not going to tell them I don’t have children.

After dinner, I volunteer to walk the two miles back to the campus with the young, fast-walking group. I struggle to keep up, but I’ll be damned if I say it. I can do this. I can fit in.

Are you ever embarrassed because you don’t have kids? Do you ever pretend you do? It’s easy when you’re among relative strangers. Everyone assumes people of a certain age are parents until you tell them otherwise.

I’m not proud of being childless. I feel like I messed up. Truly. I didn’t make motherhood happen. No matter how successful I might be otherwise, there’s this moment when a colleague asks, “How old are your kids (or grandkids) and I have to admit that I never had any. I’m not one of the childless-by-choice people who boast about not having children, who say, “I never wanted any, and I’m happy with my life.” With the implied if you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

To be honest, most people don’t react much when I tell them. They go back to their own conversations, and I go back to smiling and nodding. I can share a little bit in the conversation. I helped raise my stepchildren, I do have a niece and nephew, and hey, I was a kid once. But it’s not the same.

As I was getting on the plane to come home to Oregon, I overheard a conversation in which two strangers discovered they were both going to Portland to welcome new grandchildren. Sigh.

Do you ever feel like you need to hide the fact that you don’t have children? When does this happen? Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad and gotten caught? Please share in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.

*************

In spite of a few awkward moments, I had a wonderful trip to Tucson. The weather was perfect, the workshop was wonderful, and I got to spend time with my husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, delightful people I look forward to seeing again soon. They gave me a room, a car, and food and let me bask in the sun after months of Oregon rain. For more about my Arizona adventure, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Thank you to Lisa Manterfield for enriching the blog last week with your great post about aging without children. Let’s all support Lisa by following her Life Without Baby blog and buying her book. I’ll be posting a review soon and adding it to our resource list.

 

 

Christmas cards without kid pictures

Need a smile? Read “I’m Single and Childless and You Don’t Want My Christmas Card” by Blondie Tales. I’m thinking you all can identify with this piece about how Blondie can’t compete with all the child-centric holidays cards her friends and family send out.

I sure can identify with Blondie. I almost didn’t send out Christmas cards this year. I usually send about 50 and get back about 20. Those are filled with exactly what Blondie describes, vacation photos, kid photos and newsletters full of the achievements of offspring I don’t even know. But still, I do want to touch base with the folks with whom my only contact is Christmas cards, so I did it.

What should we childless people put in our cards? Last year, I included a giant photo of my dog and noted that I was still writing, still singing, still enjoying life with Annie. If I’d had any major vacations or career achievements that they could relate to, I would have included them, but I didn’t. I mean, I think my blogs are important, but half my family would say “what’s a blog?” and the other half would wonder why I bother. Ditto for my other publications, my music activities and about 300 dog walks a year. I lost 20 pounds and haven’t gained them back, but that doesn’t seem appropriate to share. I didn’t go to Europe, didn’t get rich, didn’t get married, didn’t acquire any children. So anyway. On the cards where I felt chatty, I noted that surviving another year with no bad news is an achievement to be grateful for. Merry Christmas. Love, Sue.

It’s one of those challenging things about the holidays. You almost want to do something impressive just so you can put it in your Christmas card and gloat because your year was more fabulous than theirs.

My friend Carol, who never had children but has a lot of pets, sends out an entertaining newsletter every year from “The Irving Menagerie” in which each pet tells some of the family’s news for the year. I love reading that one.

If we are going to do holiday greetings, we need to find a way to make it fun for us as well as for the people who will receive them. No “woe is me” allowed. I’m thinking next year I might include a humorous poem, something they’ll want to keep. Or maybe another dog picture. Maybe a humorous poem and a dog picture.

How about you? Do you send out Christmas cards? Do you feel pressure to compete with the newsletters and photos? It might be a generational thing. Am I wrong in feeling that younger people are not messing with cards anymore? At least not the paper kind you mail? Especially with postage up to 49 cents each? Do you send online greetings instead?

This is my last post before Christmas. Did it come up fast or what? So here is my greeting to you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS! IF CHRISTMAS IS NOT YOUR THING, MAY YOU FIND COMFORT AND MEANING IN WHATEVER YOU CELEBRATE. MAY THE NEW YEAR BE FILLED WITH BLESSINGS. EACH ONE OF YOU IS A BLESSING TO ME.

Hugs,

Sue