Childless or not, Easter comes again

Dear friends,

How do I make this blog relevant in these days when we’re all thinking about the coronavirus, COVID-19, and its effects on our health, our finances, and our whole lives? I mean John Prine died yesterday, they’re running out of places to put the bodies in New York, millions of people have suddenly lost their jobs, and we’re running around wearing masks. It’s a strange world. When I look around my community, it seems that the Rapture (all the good people taken up to heaven) has happened and we were left behind with no jobs, a massive recession, and constant fear that we or someone we love will catch this disease from a friend, off our groceries, or in the wind and die. How on earth can we even think about childlessness and whether or not to have a baby?

At least that’s how I feel—and that’s on the good days when I’m not so depressed I think about drinking my way through the liquor cabinet. (I’m not. There’s green tea in my cup.)

But it’s Easter. For Christians, this is Holy Week, celebrating the events leading up to Jesus’s death and resurrection. For Jews, today is Passover, when God saved his people from death. For all of us, it’s spring, the sun finally coming out, tulips and daffodils blooming, buds on trees and shrubs promising flowers and fruit. In spite of all the craziness, spring is still happening.

Spring is a time of fertility, of birth and rebirth. Easter is a time of families celebrating together. Last year, I watched my cousins’ kids hunt for Easter eggs as we gathered in the sun for a barbecue at my aunt’s house. There were at least 25 people there. This year, we’ll all be separated. We can’t even go to church.

You might see sheltering in place as a blessing for those of us who find family gatherings painful. This year, for once, you can stay home without excuses or guilt and do Easter your way–or ignore it altogether. Will you dye eggs, pig out on candy, put bunny ears on the dog, sip wine on the porch, make love, or watch videos? Will you “Facetime” or Skype with family, including the little ones? Me, I’m planning to attend church online and then have myself a picnic in the back yard. We can do whatever we want. We still have options; they’re just different.

I hope and pray that you and your loved ones are well. Whether you have COVID-19 or something else, it’s a terrible time to be sick, with access to health care so limited and people not allowed to bring anyone with them for support. I read online about a pregnant woman who is terrified to deliver her baby in the midst of this crisis. We’re all kind of scared. Most of us believe we would survive if we got the virus, but what if we don’t?

What is my point today? We all have to survive this time in our own way. When I told my brother it is difficult being alone, he replied that it is also difficult being at home with three grandchildren under age 5. I’m jealous that he and his kids and grandkids are together but grateful I can read and write and sleep in peace. Meanwhile, this is an opportunity to try new ways of being and thinking and doing.

How are you managing this Easter week? How are you feeling about being childless now? Has the COVID-19 affected your relationship with your mate? Has it changed your thoughts about having or not having children?

Please comment. I’m here. We’re all here. You are not alone.

 

 

 

Beneficiaries? No Easy Answer

I’m filling out forms to receive payments from one of my late father’s investments. The man had money in many pockets. I wish he had spent some of it on himself and my mother. It’s too late now, and I know I am blessed to have it. The monthly payments will make up for the job I no longer have. (See previous post) BUT the forms want to know who my beneficiaries are in case I die before the money runs out. What to put in these blanks is obvious for people who have spouses and children. It was easy for my father, but I’m stumped. Can I leave it to my dog?

These are the sorts of things in life that frazzle the childless widow. That and questions like “Why are you saving all this stuff?” and “How many grandchildren do you have?”

It’s the same thing when I have to fill out medical forms listing who to call in case of an emergency. I don’t know. My brother lives too far away to be any immediate help. I list friends who I hope are in town and in good health when I get in trouble. So far, that has worked out.

How I wish I had children whose names and contact information I would know as well as my own to plug into those blank spaces on the forms.

I’m reading a novel that takes place in a Native American community where all of the older women are “aunties,” no matter whether they gave birth or not. I think that is my role, too, at this point. I am going to list my niece and nephew as my beneficiaries. After all, they are my father’s grandchildren as well as my closest younger relatives.

Having some money to give away offers a chance to be creative. Who could I surprise with extra money if I die? Some of my friends could definitely use the cash. But I can’t surprise them. I need their social security numbers for the form, and they might be insulted if I decided to play benefactor. Can I leave it to an institution? Which one? I need to do some research and consider some options that might not be available to parents because, as a childless auntie, I can.

How about you? Are there situations in which your lack of children sends you into a brick wall that parents sail right over?

 

If you’re childless, you will never…

Got your attention with that title, huh? Well, good. At 4 a.m., I started making this list, and I encourage you to continue it in the comments. Before you say it, I will note that some of these can become you WILL via stepchildren, nieces, nephews, friends’ children, jobs and volunteer gigs.

If you don’t have children, you will never . . .

  1. Have to worry about the school schedule (unless you’re a teacher)
  2. Have to find a babysitter in order to go out to dinner, a movie, a party, or a trip around the world. (You might need a dogsitter)
  3. Have to share your cookies with a child.
  4. Add any names to your Christmas card signature.
  5. Have anyone come after you on your family tree.
  6. Show off pictures of your own children on your cell phone or post them on Facebook.
  7. Have grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  8. Have sons- or daughters-in-law.
  9. Have to worry about paying your children’s college tuition.
  10. Have children to list as your next of kin.
  11. Have to attend Little League or soccer games.
  12. Learn the latest kid songs (unless you work at a preschool)
  13. Be required to hang out in a roomful of sugar-crazed children.
  14. Have to be careful at cussing in your own house.
  15. Have an episiotomy. (Thank God!)
  16. Have to watch cartoons before breakfast.
  17. Share your pregnancy story at a baby shower
  18. Be a full-fledged member of the Mom or Dad Club.
  19. Have someone who looks like you call you Mom or Dad.
  20. Stop answering questions about why you don’t have children.

That’s my list for now. I know you can add some more. And yes, I know you can do all this stuff with other people’s kids or with adopted children, but it’s not the same, is it?

***

This has been an insane week, another one in an insane year. Having my father die would have been enough. But on Tuesday, I was forced to give notice at my job, a job I loved. Our priest has banished half my choir because they dared to hold hands during The Lord’s Prayer. No warning. I can’t live with that. I will be taking my music skills to another church in the area. Meanwhile, today I have learned that my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, has been published. Hallelujah. Info here. All of this may have something to do with me being up at 4 a.m., writing with this light-up pen I got from a charity for blind people.

 

Did They Stay Childless Together or Split?

I have been editing old posts and their accompanying comments. (Please proofread, friends.) I’m dying to know what happened to all of those people whose partners said no to kids and put them into a tizzy of should I go or should I stay? There were so many. Today I was reading some of the 245 comments on a 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?”

Anonymous: Hi, … I got engaged six months ago to my on-off partner of three years. We had been all off, and he said he wanted to get married and have kids. He had not said this before so I felt something had clicked for him and us. He was so up for it he even got me to add pregnancy coverage to my health care immediately. I have just turned 42 and we got married a few months ago. Our finances have been tight and we also weren’t getting on great, but I thought kids would be in the mix when we got things sorted. We have just had a chat and my husband has changed his mind about having kids. He says he doesn’t want them anymore, and it is not and will not be open for discussion. I am devastated. I would not have gotten engaged had I realized this truth, as I always have wanted kids and would not have entered into a relationship with someone who wasn’t open to trying. This is very real and raw for me, as it was only a few hours ago. I feel it’s my calling to be a mother.

 My response: Anon July 15, I’m so sorry this happened. I find it amazing how many guys change their minds after the wedding. Have another chat and let him know how hurt you are. I pray you can work this out.

By now, surely the issue is settled one way or another. They broke up or they stayed together. They had a baby or they didn’t.

If you have been in that situation, please tell us what happened. What did you decide to do? Does it feel like the right decision now? It will help those coming behind you to figure out what to do.

I’m relieved to know that I still agree with the advice I gave back then. Also embarrassed that I needed to proofread, too. I hope the typos are all gone now.

***

I leave tomorrow for my father’s funeral. I know that I will be sitting on that front-row pew as a party of one with my brother’s tribe: wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, with other families nearby. Just me. For years, it has been me and Dad, but he’s the guest of honor this time. Damn.

So there’s that. If you don’t have children now, the loss compounds in the future because you will also not have your children’s partners and children, and your grandchildren’s partners and children, and everyone’s in-laws. The loss just expands. Like an earthquake that starts out small then blows the world apart. They say each higher number on the Richter scale is not just a little bit more but exponentially more (WAY more).

Something to think about.

Thank you all for being here. I treasure you.

 

The sorrow of a childless ultrasound test

Dear friends,

This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.

But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.

It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .

Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.

Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.

Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.

So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.

I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.

As always, I cherish your comments.

 

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 beautifully 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?

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.