Book tells stories of ‘missed motherhood’

Let’s talk about books on this snowy morning. Yes, it’s snowing on the beach in Oregon. So pretty. So not going to my dentist appointment. 🙂

Comstock, Kani with Barbara Comstock. Honoring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice and Creativity. Ashland, OR: Willow Press, 2013.

In a world where having children seems to be the default setting for most women, Comstock acknowledges that large numbers of women do not become mothers for physical or circumstantial reasons. Even if they do have children, they may have lost other babies to abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. The book includes the Comstocks’ personal stories of non-motherhood, followed by a series of first-person narratives from other women. It concludes with a series of resources to help deal with grief and the loss of children.

Aside from some grammar glitches, the book is well-written and the stories are engrossing. I was shocked at the number of women here who had abortions, sometimes multiple, and others who had one miscarriage after another. The situation I address in my own Childless by Marriage book and blog, the partner who is unwilling or unable to make babies, is glossed over with one story that ends happily with a great relationship with the woman’s stepchildren. Believe me, it doesn’t always work that way.

I was also bothered by the frequent mentions of something called The Hoffman Process, a personal growth program in which both women are deeply involved. For approximately $5,000, you can spend a week at one of their retreats and release all your trapped feelings. Some online writers call it a cult. Are the Comstocks trying to sell us the course? Are they qualified to offer the psychological information they include? They are probably right that most of us do not fully express our feelings or acknowledge our losses, but I don’t know if we need the “process.”

Those concerns aside, the resources included at the back of the book are a boon for any childless woman trying to figure out how to grieve her loss and move on. They include rituals one can perform alone or with friends and a wonderful Mother’s Day ceremony I would love to try. You can also find these rituals at their website, http://www.missedmotherhood.com.

The emphasis really is on physical loss of a baby. If your problem is with your partner, well, you have already found us right here.

Kani Comstock and I will both be presenting at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio October 6 and 7.

Michele Longo Eder, Salt in our Blood. Newport, OR: Dancing Moon Press, 2008

Right after I read the Comstocks’ book, I launched into this memoir by a local woman about the loss of her stepson at sea. I’m still deeply engrossed in this 430-page paperback, but wanted to share part of her story that applies here. The author, an attorney with no children, married a fisherman with two sons. He had custody of the boys, and their mother was not involved at all. Michele immediately became their mother. They call her “Mom,” and she calls them her sons throughout. There is no “step” between them at all. There is also no mention of wanting her own biological children or regretting not having them. Of course, it’s not a happy story. One of the sons dies. She grieves him like her own. Is it possible for a woman to step into a family and bond so completely that someone else’s children become her own? Is this only possible if the bio mom is not around? Something to ponder.

Meanwhile, there’s snow blowing past my window. I’m calling the dentist’s office. Not coming. Have a good day, wherever you are and whatever your weather.

No, I am not my dog’s mother

annie-9314Back in 2008, I published one post after another about my puppies Annie and Chico. This was my motherhood experience, I believed. The pups were exactly the size of human newborns when my late husband Fred and I picked them up from a nearby breeder. For that first year, I was obsessed with those furry critters. There was an element of mothering, the feeding, the cleaning, the shots, the classes. I even had a puppy shower, hosted by my church choir. I was a raggedy mess as I neglected my poor husband because it was all about the puppies.

Reality woke me up. Fred’s Alzheimer’s became so advanced in 2009 that I had to put him in a nursing home. Now the dogs were big enough to knock me down. Chico started jumping the fence and fighting with neighbor dogs. After months of chasing him and threats from the neighbors, I gave him up to a shelter. So it was just me and Annie. Did I think of myself as her mom? Yes, but I don’t anymore, even though I devoted a whole chapter to dog-motherhood in my Childless by Marriage book.

Annie, now eight and a half years old, is my friend, my companion, and my responsibility, but she is not my child. I continue to live in a home that is much too big for one person with a yard that I can’t quite keep up because of Annie. I hesitate to travel because she doesn’t travel well and I hate to leave her. She is a constant responsibility, but no, she’s not my baby. She’s just Annie, an aging yellow dog with arthritis.

Does she help fill the gap where children would be? Some. Get a dog or a cat. It helps. A cat or a little dog stays baby-sized forever. But it does not take away the sting when I get to hold someone’s infant for five minutes then have to give her back because she’s not mine and I will never have one of my own. Last week I had that chance and it felt good until reality kicked in again like a punch in the stomach. No children, no grandchildren. Ever. I hate it.

But a dog does help. When I got home from my travels, Annie leaped in joy. We collapsed together on the loveseat as she wiggled all over, licked my face and let me know that I had just made her the happiest dog in the world. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that kind of greeting from my kids.

No, my dog is not my child. But she is a precious gift, and I’d glad she’s here.

What about you? Do you have pets? Do you think of yourself as their mother or father? Do you know people who do? Let’s talk about it.

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Want to read some of those old puppy posts?

“Sounds Like Motherhood to Me”

“Sometimes Even Puppies are Too Much”

“Puppy Love is the Best”

 

Books offer discouraging view of IVF

Fertility treatments aren’t necessarily relevant when you’re fertile enough but one partner just doesn’t want to have children. However, in some couples, the problem is physical. You both want to make babies, but due to problems with sperm or eggs, it’s not happening. Should you try in-vitro fertilization and other high-tech procedures? Would it work? The books I’ve been reading lately suggest the costs are high and the chances are poor.

Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh, WW Norton & Co., 2016

This book was sent to me to review. If you’re considering fertility treatment, you might want to read it. Or you might not because it could scare you out of it.

When they can’t get pregnant the usual way, novelist Julia Leigh and her husband resort to science. When their marriage fails, she continues alone with sperm donated by a friend. She is already in her 40s, and the odds are not great. Hormone injections, freezing eggs, embryo transfers—none of it seems to work. How long can she support her dream of having a child? Reading this book confirms my personal belief that success is rare and it’s not worth the misery. Leigh, an accomplished novelist and screenwriter, is very clear about the odds—not great—and the treatments—not fun. But it is a gripping story, easy to read in a day or so.

You can read a longer review of this book at Jody Day’s Gateway Women site.

Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies by Miriam Zoll, Interlink Publishing Group, 2013

Like many modern women, Miriam Zoll wanted to get her career well-established before she had children. She thought she had plenty of time. Finally married and pushing 40, she was ready. When the natural way didn’t work, she went to a fertility specialist. She soon learned that fertility assistance treatments such as in-vitro fertilization and using donor eggs were not the guaranteed route to parenthood most people believed. This memoir takes us on her harrowing journey to become a mother, trying every possible way. As it tells her story, this book also serves as a warning to anyone who thinks technology will lead to pregnancy. Not only is the success rate depressingly low, but no one knows yet what the long-term effects will be. This book, a little long but well-written, successfully blends memoir and research and should be required reading for anyone considering procreation after age 35.

The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness by Eliot Jager, The Toby Press, 2015

This memoir emphasizes Jager’s complicated relationship with his father and his struggle with being a childless Jewish man. Jager and his wife could not conceive. Fertility treatments failed. They did not want to adopt. Meanwhile, his religion told him a man was not complete without children. In addition to his own experiences, he shares conversations with other childless Jewish men and offers the scriptural view of childlessness. I would have liked him to talk more about his personal struggles with not having children, but the narrative kept veering back to his father. It is also mired in footnotes and Hebrew words. Still, it’s an interesting read.

So that’s my book report. Read ’em if you dare. Meanwhile, the comments have been pouring in on previous posts, especially, “Go or Stay” from Aug. 31. Take a scroll back through the posts and see if you want to add to the conversation. Thank you all for being here.

 

Free to go where I please with no kids

I’m traveling this week, taking the scenic route south to Dad’s house in California. Things have not gone exactly as planned. The place I planned to eat lunch on the first day was closed, it rained all over my nature hike on the second day, and the towns where I have stopped have not been what I expected. Plus I keep getting lost. Thank God for the GPS or I’d still be circling Eugene two hours from home.

Living alone can be tough and so can traveling alone, but I have a freedom not enjoyed by women traveling with partners and children. I can change plans on a whim, stop at a museum or bird sanctuary I find along the way, order a sinful dessert and listen to live music with nobody complaining about the food, hating the music or asking if I’m ready to leave yet. I can sit on a rock at the water’s edge and soak in the peace and quiet. I can watch TV or turn it off.

I’m not totally free. I have financial and physical limitations. I keep getting lost. But I don’t have to focus my attention on child-friendly activities, and that’s a blessing for me. Nor do I have to plan every moment, which my husband always wanted to do.

There are other limitations to one’s freedom. Once I get to Dad’s house, my freedom will be greatly limited–and he doesn’t have WiFi. Kids are tough, but so are 94-year-old parents.

There have been moments I have wished I could share what I’m seeing with a family. And when I walked through the pioneer cemetery today in Klamath Falls, I suddenly saw my grave all alone with no family. That terrified me. And I miss my dog. But I’m traveling, my way, my choices. I wouldn’t even be here if I had school age  children because school started this week in our town. Believe me, I wouldn’t be able to write this in my motel room at 6 p.m. if anybody else were here with me.

So, what can you do because you don’t have children? Let’s make a list.

P.S. We’re getting a lot of comments on the last few posts. Take a look and consider adding to the conversation.

 

 

 

Does this mean we can’t have children?

Does my partner’s condition make it impossible for us to have children? Do we dare? What if one of us says yes and one of us says no?

In the last few days, I have received several comments from a woman with epilepsy. Over the years, I have heard from people who suffer from diabetes, venereal disease, mental illness and other problems. Should they/could they have children? What if things go awry? Will their babies inherit their conditions? Three responses come to mind.

First, couples need to share important physical information that might affect their ability to bear healthy children, and they need to talk it through. To hide such things would be more of a deal-breaker for me than telling me about them. Are you not talking about it for fear the other person will leave? If they really love you, they won’t. If they can’t handle it, better to find out now.

Second, are you marrying a baby machine or a life partner? Ordinarily, babies follow marriage, but not always. For better or worse, right? Since my husband died, I can tell you I miss him far more than I miss having children.

Third, you need to get as much information about the condition as possible. Talk to doctors, do research, find out the risks and possibilities. Make an informed decision.

Epilepsy is a scary condition. I have friends and relatives who suffer from it. The writer spoke of her fear that she might have a seizure in labor or while taking care of a baby. That’s a very valid fear. I know women with epilepsy who have successfully given birth and raised children to adulthood. I have known others who didn’t dare take the risk. If you have this condition, talk to your doctor. If you can get the seizures under control, motherhood may be possible. But both parties have to be willing to try, knowing the dangers.

My first husband had a form of epilepsy. Early on, he taught me how to take over if we were riding in the car when a seizure happened. His seizures were terrifying, but I didn’t love him any less for it, and it had nothing to do with our not having children together.

When I was dating my second husband, I questioned him about why he was so quick to get a vasectomy after his son was born. Was there some physical problem he was worried about? No, he said. He just didn’t want any more children. But everyone has something. Almost everyone on my mother’s side of the family has diabetes and kidney disease. Fred’s son inherited his farsightedness and will probably have to deal with thyroid disease at some point because it runs very strongly in Fred’s family. But meanwhile he’s a healthy young man who enjoys hiking and mountain-climbing.

There’s so much we don’t know. But people who claim to love each other need to talk about the things they do know and find out as much as they can before they have children together–or decide not to. If you can’t talk about these things with your girlfriend/fiancĂ©/spouse, see that as a big red flag. Maybe this isn’t the right person.

What do you think about all this?

Childless don’t fit advertising stereotypes

Do you pay attention to advertising? I tend to read or play video games during TV commercials, and I ignore the ads I see in print or online. But if you look, you might notice that the ads feature two types of women: young hotties and moms. Ditto for men. Either you’re surfing and mountain-climbing, or you’re a dad. Stereotypes. All women over 30 are mothers, all men are fathers. So target your advertising to parents. Think of all the stuff they buy.

Yeah, well, as writer Alina Tugend protested in a recent New York Times article, advertisers should also consider childless people. Click here to read her article, “Childless Women to Marketers: We Buy Things Too.

Advertisers don’t consider people like me either. When was the last time you saw an ad featuring a graying childless widow who lives alone in the woods with her dog? The ads for people in my age group always show great-looking man-woman couples enjoying their retirement on the golf course or on a cruise—when they’re not having fun with their grandchildren. Either that or they’re crippled and smiling as they ride a cart up a stairway. Where are the mature women and men who do things with friends? Or alone? Or who are still working? The ads suggest we all have partners, pensions, and money to live a life of luxury. Right.

Back to the mommy ads. No question parents buy a lot of stuff, from binkies to basketball hoops. This morning at the store, I watched a mom go through the list of back to school items for her kids. So many things! But my cart was filling up, too, with food and things for the house. And I buy paper, pens, and other so-called school supplies all year round for my business.

I have collected a few articles you might want to read.

“Why Don’t Advertisers Pay Attention to Childless Women?” by Elissa Strauss at Slate’s XXfactor.

“The Parent Trap: Marketing to Parents” from the Art institutes’ blog.

“10 Women in Advertising on Marketing to Women”. These women understand that women come in many variations. They analyze recent advertising and attempts to make things more equal.

We childless folks are becoming a bigger part of the population every day, and advertisers need to recognize us. They also need to figure out that people who do have children are many other things besides parents. As Tugend says, we’re here, and we buy stuff.

What have you noticed about the people portrayed in advertising? If you had the power to create ads, what would you put in them? Let’s talk about it.