Still Not Pregnant? and other Holiday Conversation-Stoppers

Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day when people traditionally gather with their families. For those of us who are childless, this can be fraught with discomfort watching other people with their kids, and we’re likely to face the dreaded nosy questions about our non-parenting status.

What can you say that will quickly shift the conversation on to other subjects? Some answers are more acceptable than others. Top of the list is a medical condition that prevents you from having children.

Back when I was a kid, when people did not speak openly of such things, it was a whispered “Oh, she can’t have children” to explain what happened to certain aunts and cousins. That someone would CHOOSE not to was inconceivable.

In the days when I was still fertile, I used the medical excuse sometimes. “Oh, we can’t.” I never blamed Fred. I blamed my family tendency toward diabetes—quite a stretch—but I had no good illness to blame it on. In my mid-40s, when I came down with Graves’ Disease, that might have been a real excuse—Graves meds and pregnancy do not mix—but no, I was just reaching for that quiet acceptance that would end the conversation.

But you know what’s coming next, right? Why don’t you just adopt? Like that’s an easy thing to do. Be ready with a reason why you can’t adopt either. My husband was too old when we got married. Most agencies won’t give babies to people pushing 50. End of discussion.

So, when people ask why you don’t have kids, what can you say that will cause the nosy ones to react with, “Oh, I’m sorry” rather than “there’s still time,” “you’re going to regret it,” “if you just pray harder,” etc.

  • Lack of required body parts—early hysterectomy, testicular cancer, no ovaries, no sperm, no eggs—should work, but these days people will suggest fertility treatments, donors, surrogates, etc, like if you don’t do all of that, you’re just not trying hard enough. Ask them if they want to pay for it. Maybe your religion, like mine, frowns on it, but they might suggest it’s worth sinning a little to have a child.
  • Can’t afford kids—That won’t fly. They’ll assure you that you can work it out.
  • Genetic problems you’re afraid to pass down.—People might or might not understand.
  • One of you is an addict, an abuser or mentally ill—Well, you don’t want to share that, do you?
  • “He doesn’t want kids, but I do”—Good luck with that one.

You could say “we’re trying,” but eventually people are going to want to see results. Ages ago, when my grandfather kept pressing as to why we weren’t having children, I finally said, “Fred’s shooting blanks.” “Oh,” said Grandpa, and he never brought it up again. It’s the kind of thing guys don’t talk about. Grandpa didn’t know anything about sperm donors, in vitro fertilization, and all that stuff. No sperm, no kids, end of discussion.

In this child-centric world where most people do have children, we are the outliers and are often called upon to explain ourselves. “You don’t have children? Why?” Can we just turn it around and say, “You do have kids? How come?” Especially when those kids are full of Thanksgiving dinner, haven’t had their naps, and are being real buttheads.

There’s really no good answer, other than, “Nope, no kids for us. Can you pass the gravy?”

One of the joys of being older is that your childless status is a done deal, and the questioners tend to lighten up. You may still feel like an outsider watching your relatives and their children. Try to love them anyway.

I am thankful for all of you. Have a blessed holiday.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

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Childless Thoughts About U.S. Elections and Thanksgiving

Dark-haired little girl surrounded by her grandfathers, both in white shirts and ties. Table full of holiday food.

Last night, I stayed up late watching TV coverage of the mid-term election. As I type this in the morning, we are still awaiting results in many races, still waiting to find out whether Republicans or Democrats will rule.

Reproductive rights is one of the big issues this year, especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision that protected the right to abortion. Many states have since enacted anti-abortion laws that either prohibit terminating a pregnancy or make it nearly impossible. If the uber-conservative Republican Party dominates the government, more states will follow.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Well, more oops pregnancies would be carried to term, babies that might not otherwise have been born. We hear threats that if the Republicans rule, they will go after contraception next. What if you didn’t have easy access to the pill or other contraceptive of your choice? How would that affect the choice to have children with a spouse who doesn’t really want to?

At 8 a.m. on the Oregon coast, frost covers the lawns. It’s 33 degrees out, darned cold for this area, and my neighbors across the street have already turned on their Christmas lights. Too soon? It is for me, but Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Normally I spend the holiday with my brother’s family, but he and his wife are going to Hawaii this year. Bravo for them, but I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone.

The other day at church, I got to thinking about the circle of life. Traditionally, when the old die, young people are born to take their seats at the Thanksgiving table, so the numbers remain about the same. I have fond memories of sitting at my parents’ dining room table surrounded by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins (see photo). As the years passed, the grandparents died and my brother and I moved up a generation as young newlyweds. While I remained childless, my brother had two children. Now he has three grandchildren who climb into his lap and play with his white beard. Our parents and the aunts and uncles are gone, but his table in California is still full. At my house, 700 miles away in Oregon, it’s just me. I’m hoping to get together with friends from church, but it’s not the same.

If I look more closely at the old photos, I see the cousin who never married or had children. I see the childless aunt and uncle who never talked about why they didn’t have kids. But they all had a place at the table. In every generation, there are some who do not have children. In my generation, that would be me. And you.

This post meanders a bit, but I wonder if it sparks any thoughts or comments from you. If you’re in the United States, how do you feel about this election and the way reproductive rights seem to be going? (Be nice. I know these issues engender strong feelings). How are you feeling about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday? Do you have a place at the family table?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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