I’m childless, but my life is full of blessings

Last night I had pizza for dinner. Just pizza. No salad, no veggies, no dessert, no wine or beer. No meat. Just half of a homemade mushroom and olive pizza. I ate it while reading a book. Nearby the dog crunched on her kibble. After dinner, I would decide whether or not to wash my dishes—not—and go off to church choir practice. Later I would grab a cookie and settle in to watch whatever I wanted on TV (Have you seen the new show “This is Us”? Watch it.) In the commercials, I would check email, and when I ran out of email, I would play solitaire on my phone. Then I’d turn off the lights, give the dog a Milk-Bone and go to sleep, undisturbed by man, child or dog (unless we had another thunderstorm).

This is the selfish, self-contained life of a woman in her 60s with no children and no husband. I don’t have to share, I don’t have to plan balanced meals, and I don’t have to coordinate my activities with anyone else. Do I get lonely? Do I turn to the emptiness on the other side of the bed and remember early morning kisses and smiles? Do I wish my phone would ring and a voice would say, “Hi Mom, how are you?” Do I feel like I blew it when I realize that I’m this old and I never had kids? Of course.

But we can’t change what happened before; we can only go on from here. And for those of you who are terrified you’re end up alone like me, “here” is not terrible. In fact, most of the time, I like it.

Advising people to count their blessings is such a cliché, but it helps. Right now, at 7:30 a.m., it’s just getting light here on the Oregon coast. An hour ago, I could see the moon through the kitchen skylight. Now the sky is quilted with gray clouds that are slowly turning pink over the pine trees. It’s going to be a beautiful day. For the first time in over a week, no rain is predicted. I am alive, I am healthy, and I have work that I love. I have a good house and just enough money to pay for it. I have friends and family to cherish. I have Annie, the sweetest dog in the world.

No, I don’t have children, and my husband died. That sucks, but I can’t change it. I look at the sky getting lighter every minute, and I go on.

I know that many of you are half my age or younger and still trying to figure out what to do in relationships where your partner is reluctant or unable to have children. Stay or go? Accept being childless or fight against it? Now is the time in your life when you can still change things. I remember the turmoil of those days, the feeling that I had to do something but not knowing what to do.

You have to face reality. When you marry someone who has been married before and who has already had children, they’re finished with that stage of life. You come in as the second course (or third, or dessert), and they’re just not ready to start over. They might be willing, but it’s understandable if they’re not. It’s a cold way to look at it, but it’s true. Can their children make up for the ones you might never have? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s worth a try.

However, if you started out together thinking you’d have children, then you have every right to demand that your partner stick to the original plan. You do not have to hide your tears or your anger. Make it known that their refusal to have children or their refusal to make a decision about it is not fair.

I got an annulment in the Catholic church because my first husband refused to have kids. The archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco ruled that it was never a valid marriage. To be honest, that marriage was doomed anyway, but the church ruled in my favor against my baby-refusing husband. Now on his third marriage, he never did have any children. I loved him. I thought we’d have children and a long, happy life together. I had no way of predicting how things would turn out.

Where am I going with this? In a valid marriage, in a genuine loving partnership, you agree on important things like having children. You’re open to talking about it. And you don’t deny something so essential to someone you want to spend your life with. On the other hand, if one of you is physically unable to have children, then both of you are unable to have children. You’re in it together.

Take a look at your life and your relationship. Is it worth keeping just as it is? Do you wake up happy every morning that he or she is there? Can you count your blessings? Or do you need to take another path before it’s too late so that when you get to my age, you can wake up and say, “Life is good”?

The pink clouds have faded to white against a pale blue sky. The dog is asleep in her chair. It’s time to get dressed and brew another cup of tea. Life is good.

What do you think? I treasure your comments.

 

Have a Talk with Yourself on Paper

Dear friends,

Often in the comments, people tell me they are so depressed, so sad, so confused they don’t know what to do. I’ll bet you feel that way sometimes, as if what you’re going through now or facing in the future is just unbearable. You want children so badly, but you might never have them. You love this man or woman with all your heart, but if you stay with them, you have to give up your dream. It hurts. Right?

And what do I tell you? Talk to somebody. Talk to your partner, your family, your friends, a minister or a shrink. Easy to say, not so easy to do. I know. People are always telling me to call them when I feel depressed, but I can’t. It’s just too hard to pull out of my funk long enough to dump it all over my friends and relatives. If I do call, they either don’t understand or they offer solutions that just make me feel worse. But there’s something I can do that really helps: I can write. As a lifelong professional writer, I naturally turn to words, but writing is a great outlet for anyone.

Writing is great therapy. It allows you to get your feelings out of your head and onto paper, to work through problems and to figure out exactly what’s bothering you. It doesn’t have to be perfect or professional. Who cares if you spell all the words right? You don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s just for you. So get out some paper or boot up the computer and give it a shot. Here are some suggestions.

1) Journal: Write about what’s going on, about how you feel, about why you think you feel that way, what you would change in your life if you could.

2) Make a list: What’s bugging you? Put it all down. Feeling hurt, resentful, sad or scared? Write it down. Don’t know what to do? Try a list of pros and cons. Feel guilty or hurt or resentful? Write it down. List every last little thing that’s bothering you, no matter how trivial. Get it all out.

3)Write a letter: Is there someone you’d really like to talk to but can’t because they’re not alive or not around or you don’t dare say what you’d like to say? Write it out. You don’t have to mail it, but just putting it down will help.

4) Fantasize: If all your dreams came true, if your partner changed his mind, if her infertility suddenly disappeared, if you got pregnant or met the perfect person who can’t wait to have kids with you, what would it be like? Just write it down and let yourself enjoy the dreams. What would you have to do to make those dreams come true?

5) Count blessings: Yes, you do have blessings, and if you can find a few, it will help you feel better. It doesn’t have to be big. A perfect hamburger. A dog who loves you. A favorite pair of shoes. Maybe your partner’s hugs make you feel safe and warm. Maybe you have a wonderful job. Maybe the sky is a gorgeous shade of blue or the rain feels good on your face. Writing down your blessings can help you see it’s not all bad.

6) Get creative: Try making up a story about someone else. Give them lots of troubles, then find ways to solve them. Or try writing a poem or song. Some of the world’s greatest songs have come from composers who were feeling bad. Remember “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”?

You could just go to Facebook or Twitter and tell the world you feel bad. But that will just bring a flurry of pity responses and then everyone will forget about it. That doesn’t help much. Try writing something that only you and God will see.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I have considerable experience with various types of therapy, but for me, the best therapy is writing. Most people I meet don’t know about my “blue days.” I don’t call them. I write.

When that doesn’t work, I go out and eat a massive sandwich and a ton of French fries. I look forward to your comments.