Childless Elderwomen Share Their Thoughts on ‘Renewal’

Renewal. What does that word mean to you? A fresh start? A new way of seeing or doing things? It seems like we ought to be discussing this in the spring, not in the midst of a huge winter storm, but renewal was the topic yesterday when childlessness guru Jody Day brought together 12 “childless elderwomen” for another solstice chat on Zoom. If you are younger and not sure whether or not you will have children, listening to these wonderful women should prove that either way you can live well and become a badass elderwoman or, as Jody likes to call us a “nomo crone.”

For me, renewal this year means taking my recovery from my fall in October and COVID in November into a concerted effort to reassess my body and my lifestyle in 2023. I am working to counter my aloneness by reaching out more to other people and creating my “village” so we can take care of each other. It also means reaching out to my family and basically demanding to spend time live and online with all of them, especially the young ones, so they know who this “Aunt Sue” is and let me be part of their lives.

Does this sound like New Year’s resolutions? Yes, but this is different. This is a restart on our lives, looking at it fresh. For some, that means getting rid of possessions that weigh us down. For others, it might be changing a life situation that has got us stuck, including this bit about your partner not wanting to have children or you not sure what you want to do. If you knew you only had a short time to live, what would you do? Don’t wait until you’re old or facing a terminal diagnosis to change what needs changing.

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

Have a wonderful holiday. Do your best to make it your own. All of you are a gift for me. Thank you for being here.

Sue

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Childless Holidays Can Bring Unexpected Blessings

Dear friends,

I am rerunning this post from December 2017 because it still rings true today. With COVID and everything else that has happened, 2017 seems like a thousand years ago. This year, I’m looking forward to Christmas with friends. My house is full of decorations, and my COVID aftereffects are fading away. I wish you all the best of holiday seasons.

Decorated Christmas tree with a cross on top, white lights and colored lights, view through window of trees, cars, house in the forest

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above our wedding rings and other keepsakes I display on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my books, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.

Sue

P.S. Another episode of the Childless Elderwomen’s fireside chats hosted by Jody Day is happening on Zoom next Wednesday, Dec. 21, noon PST. Our topic this time is “Renewal.” Participants include me, Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Trish Faulks, Suzan Muir, Susan Dowrie, Pamelia Tsigdinos, Elizbeth Grambsch, and Karen Malone Wright. For those who can’t hear it live, the chat will be recorded to enjoy later. To register for the free event, visit bit.ly/gw-renewal.

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Do We Settle Because We’re Afraid of Being Alone?

Do we commit to less than perfect partners because we’re terrified of being alone?

A webinar about spinsterhood got me thinking about this over the weekend. On Sunday, Jody Day of Gateway Women led the discussion with Civilla Morgan, who hosts the Childless Not by Choice podcast; Shani Silver, host of A Single Serving podcast, and Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. (Read my review of her book here.) Ward, who lives in Australia, has just released an American edition of her book.

Our world is not kind to women who for whatever reason, aside from becoming nuns, never marry or have children. The assumption that everyone has a partner is even stronger than the assumption that everyone has children. Have you noticed how the world is set up for couples? Two settings at the restaurant table. Win a trip for two. Here’s a two-for- one coupon.

The word “spinster” has ugly connotations. It implies that something’s wrong with you, that you failed to attract a man. You’re unattractive, weird, asexual, can’t get along with people. Then again, as Ward writes, maybe you attracted plenty of men, but none of them were good enough to spend your life with.

Bachelors are not quite as frowned on, but still we wonder: what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have a wife and kids like everybody else?

Maybe, like Silver, you like being on your own. You don’t need to be married or have children. She complained that every resource she sees for single women focuses on dating: how to get a man and end your single state. But for some singles, that’s not the issue.

It’s like being alone is a fate worse than death.

I have been alone for 12 years now. I get lonely. I have my memories to keep me company, but memories don’t put their arms around you. Memories don’t help you move that fallen tree branch that weighs more than you do. Memories won’t watch your purse while you go to the restroom, drive you to the ER when you sprain your ankle, or listen when you really need to talk to someone.

But having been married, it’s like I get this check mark from society on the box that says, “Approved.”

The list of challenges living alone goes on for days, but I don’t want to get married again. I like my freedom. Most of my widowed friends feel the same way. We have found our solo power and we like it. When we need help, we call each other.

When I was younger, would I ever have considered a single life? It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it could have happened.

No one asked me out until I was in college. Too nerdy, too fat, not social enough, parents too strict? I don’t know. I was already wondering if I’d ever find anyone, if I’d be like my Barbie doll without a Ken. I was afraid no man would love me when everything in my world told me a woman needs to get married and have children. So when someone finally wanted to date me, I didn’t ponder whether I liked him; I said yes. And I continued to say yes through a first marriage that failed and a series of unsuitable boyfriends between marriages. When I think of all the garbage I put up with just to hold onto a man . . .

By the time I met Fred, I had come to believe I would be single for the rest of my life. What if he hadn’t come along? I hope I wouldn’t have married another dud just to have someone. I know people who have done that. Don’t you?

I can count on one hand the number of people I know who never married. People wonder about them. Are they gay, do they have autism, are they mentally ill, or are they just plain weird? What if they’re regular people who surveyed the choices and said, “I’m fine by myself”?

My dog follows me around all day. She’s afraid of being alone. Humans are afraid, too. Maybe it’s the herd mentality. The zebra that wanders off alone gets killed by the lion. But maybe we don’t need to partner up for safety anymore. We can just be part of the herd.

So how about you? Have you settled so you wouldn’t be alone? Do you think it’s better to make a life alone rather than to be with the wrong person? Does the idea of a solo life scare you so much you’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect relationship to avoid it, even if that means giving up the chance to have children? Let’s talk about it.

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The Nomo Crones are meeting again for another Childless Elderwomen chat. On Sunday, June 20, noon PDT, I will join Jody Day, Donna Ward, Karen Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Maria Hill, Karen Malone Wright and Stella Duffy. We’ll talk about coming out of the COVID cocoon and the skills we’ve learned from our childless lives. No doubt, our talk will range all over the place. We’re a rowdy bunch. To register to listen live or receive the recording later, click here.

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Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

I love Jackie Shannon Hollis and I love, love, love her book, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. [I wrote about it previously; read that post here].

When I saw that she was going to be on The Childfree Girls podcast, I decide to listen. You can see and hear it here:

She was of course wise and wonderful, and I envy her rich radio voice. The interviewers were lovely and smart, but they were all definitely in the don’t-want-babies-ever camp. That’s fine. They have the right to choose. One of the wonderful things about this era as opposed to earlier times is that women have a lot more choices for their lives.

Jackie told her story of how she didn’t feel the craving to have children when she was younger, although she had been raised to believe that’s what people did when they grew up, but then in her 30s, married to her second husband, she started to long for children, even though they had agreed not to have them. Her husband remained firmly in the no-baby camp.

She felt something missing in her life. She had dreams about babies and was fascinated by pregnancy. She asked her husband repeatedly, “Why don’t you want to have a child?” Although he respected her feelings, he did not change his mind. Ultimately she asked herself WHY do I want to have a baby and decided she would let go of that dream.

Now, she says, “I am quite content with my life, and I also have times when I am quite aware of the otherness of not having children.” Being in a world of pronatalism, celebration of pregnancy and childbirth, she feels, as we all do, caught between those with children and those without.

The women on the podcast talked about interacting with their parent friends and dealing with the questions we all get. When people ask why she doesn’t have children, Jackie says she likes to turn it around and ask why they do. Everyone agreed that too many people become parents without asking why they’re doing it.

It was a good session, but something bothered me. I felt like Jackie was being pushed to share the childfree point of view, to fit in with them and not admit to any doubts, regret or grief over her decision. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m just defensive about my own choices.

I have know women who claim that they have moved from “childless” to “childfree.” I don’t see that ever happening for me. I wanted children, and I still wish I had children. Although I appreciate the time and freedom I have had all these years and I know I might have missed a lot of wonderful things, I do not like going into old age alone.

And it is alone. As I listened, I kept talking back to the computer saying, “But you’re not alone. You have your husbands.”

Of course they couldn’t hear me. But sometimes when I’m around people who never wanted to have children, I feel like I’m being shamed for not embracing the joys of the childfree life, like the childfree folks are the cool kids and we’re the old-fashioned mommy wannabes. I suspect even those who embrace the childfree name might sometimes feel a little twinge, maybe a little doubt, but won’t admit it to their peers.

We’re all different. Even those of us who have moments of total heartbreak over our lack of children are probably okay with it a lot of the time. In the end, we’re all people whose state of mind varies constantly and who all deal with the nosy questions about why we don’t have kids or why we don’t “just” adopt. We feel left out of activities designed for “families,” grit our teeth through baby showers and grandma talk, and wonder who will help us in our old age.

A person in my life with whom I don’t get along very well told me once when I was feeling sad about not having kids, “Well, it’s your own damned fault.” Is it? Is that what she really thinks? Is that what other people think? Do we have to defend our choices and constantly explain that we’re not infertile but we’re also not joyfully childfree?

Jackie did great on the interview. She was able to turn the discussion around and ask questions of her three young hosts so the focus was not all on her. I don’t feel confident enough to put myself in that situation, even though I think we should all embrace the right to feel however we feel and say it out loud to anyone.

Maybe I’m all wrong, maybe I’m just conflicted about my choices, but do you know what I mean? Do some people make you feel like you have to defend yourself for accepting your childless-by-marriage situation and being sad about it? I’d love to hear what you think.

BTW, I get my podcasts about childlessness via an app called listennotes.com. It works like Google alerts. Type in your topic and you’ll get regular emails about podcasts that mention the subject you request. It costs $5 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

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Will the New Year Bring Babies, Breakups or ???

Adios, 2020. Happy New Year? This has been a year far beyond our control, a year when the “normal” just around the corner keeps moving beyond our reach. We’ve seen lockdowns, businesses closed, and people sick or dying of a virus we had never heard of a year earlier. We’re wearing masks and minimizing contact with other people except by computer on Zoom—never heard of that before 2020 either. Wildfires, hurricanes, political upheaval, Brexit—we’ve had it all. In the midst of this craziness, when most of us are just trying to survive, how can we even think about having babies? What if you’re single? If you didn’t go into the pandemic with a partner, how could you think about dating?  

I often compare COVID to musical chairs. Whoever you had with you when the music stopped, that’s who you have for the duration. If you had no one, well, welcome to my world. As I write this, even my dog Annie (pictured above as a puppy) is gone. She has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas, when she collapsed with a type of vertigo called Vestibular Disease. It looked like a stroke, but it’s not that. As of now, she is back to eating and drinking and can sit up, but she still cannot stand or walk. Will she recover? I don’t know yet. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Now that we have a fresh new year, a blank page on the calendar, can we go back to normal? Can we go from sick to healthy, fearful to confident, isolated to together again? To eating in restaurants, attending concerts and plays, working out at the gym, going to church, and throwing parties?

If only. On Jan. 1, we will still have the same problems we’ve got on Dec. 31, including childlessness. I have lost nine people I cared about this year, one to COVID, the others to the maladies of old age. I wish there were more children coming up behind them to fill the gaps they leave behind. I have my nieces and nephews, but they are far away, and I haven’t seen them in person in over a year.

I hope 2021 can bring some added daylight to your situation. As I have said in past years, make this the year that you speak plainly to your partner about childlessness and make a conscious decision to accept a life without offspring or do something about it. When you can’t have this partner and children, which are you willing to give up?

That’s the question explored in our new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. I just got my copies yesterday. It offers the best of my blog posts and your comments, and I hope you buy it.

As we wind down, although we can’t see the future, we can hear the stories of older women who have lived the childless journey at Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen webinar today, Dec. 30, at noon Oregon time. Speakers include Jody Day, authors Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Donna Ward, and Maria Hill, “NotMom” founder Karen Malone Wright, and me. This will be my first Zoom outing with this international group. To participate, click here and go to the registration link near the bottom. The session will be recorded, so you can listen another time if you can’t make it today.

I wish you all the best of new years. May the problems that keep you awake at night be resolved and much happiness come to you.

Big socially distanced hug,

Sue

Christmas! It’s All About Children!

Suddenly Christmas looks like it’s all about babies. For my other blog, I posted a video of me singing “Silent Night.” I thought about posting another song here, but every song I looked at that was not annoying and not copyrighted was about the Mother and Child or about children being all excited about Santa Claus. There were angels and shepherds, too, but the Baby Jesus is almost always in there.

Photo by JINU JOSEPH on Pexels.com

Of course, Jesus isn’t just any baby. Depending on your beliefs, he’s the son of God, a prophet, a king or just a really famous historical figure but definitely not just a regular baby. In our Catholic liturgies this month, we also have the story of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth having a baby after years of being barren. That child became John the Baptist. 

We don’t know for sure if Mary had other children. Some faiths say yes, some say no. Did the Virgin Mary stay a virgin? Did Joseph lose his chance to be a biological dad by sticking with Mary? The Bible doesn’t share that detail.

I’m thinking a lot about the Holy Family not just because it’s Christmas but because I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings, a novel about Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus. There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus having a wife. Perhaps he stayed single so that he could focus on his ministry. If He did have a wife, many think it was Mary Magdalene, but what if he married a feisty first-century feminist named Ana instead? It’s fascinating to think about.

Ana wants to be a writer—a scribe—a role not usually allowed to women. A mother? Not so much. She uses the birth control methods of the era to try to avoid getting pregnant. You’ll have to read the book to see how that plays out, but it’s interesting to envision what it was like in a time when women had almost no freedom but still had dreams that motherhood would make difficult to fulfill.

Here’s another thought. What if Jesus did have a wife and He told her that he couldn’t have children because God the Father sent him to save humanity from our sins? What if Jesus’s wife was childless by marriage?

I’m just letting my crazed mind wander. I hope I don’t offend anyone. I have had too much stormy weather and Zoom church. Is the rain and wind in western Oregon ever going to stop? But seriously, does Christmas bum you out with all of its emphasis on mothers and babies? Are there songs that you just can’t stand because they remind you that you don’t have children? Are the holidays any easier for childless non-Christians? Let’s talk about it.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. It will be an odd one with COVID-19 keeping us from our usual celebrations. I have just had a loved one die of the virus. His live-streamed funeral is next Monday. I will be thinking of his wife and kids as my sister-friend Pat and I celebrate our little Christmas for two. We’re getting takeout food this time, too lazy to cook. But we are going to bake cookies this afternoon just for fun. Neither of us needs the added calories, but we miss the good times of yesteryear. So we’ll talk and sing and bake and treasure the moments.

What is your plan for this week? Is it easier or harder because you can’t gather with lots of people? Please share in the comments.

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NEWS!

On Dec. 30, I will join a group of older childless women from all over the English-speaking world for a Zoom chat titled “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen.” Participants include include Jody Day of Gateway Women; Karen Malone Wright, founder of The NotMom; Maria Hill of Sensitive Evolution; Jackie Shannon Hollis, author of This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story; Kate Kaufmann, author of Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No; Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life, and Stella Duffy, novelist, actor, playwright, and founder of FunPalaces. Click the link here for more information. It’s happening at noon Pacific Time, but will be recorded for those who can’t attend then. This is my first outing with this “Elderwomen” group, and I would love to see some friends there. Do come.

The new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which offers the best of this blog, is out now. You can get it at Amazon or order it from your favorite bookseller. If you send me proof of purchase and your U.S. mailing address at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of my previous book, Childless by Marriage, totally free. Overseas readers, due to postage costs, I can only offer the Kindle version. If you already own the first book, check out my web site and pick another book you’d like to have.

To promote the new book, I’m asking for reviews, speaking opportunities, guest spots on blogs and podcasts, and social media “shares” wherever you can. This is our book. Without your comments, it would be nothing. Let’s spread the word far and wide. Contact me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com.  

I am so grateful for all of you. I hope this Christmas eases your hearts and that you find peace one way or the other with your childless situation. Be well.

Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021,

Love Sue and Annie the Dog

P.S. did you see the true story about the childless couple who decided to adopt a calf as their son? Read it here.          

Book Review: A Childless Love Story

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis, Forest Avenue Press, 2019.

I want to share this new book with you. For a lot of us who are—or might be—childless by marriage, it’s exactly what we need to read. The book isn’t out yet. The publisher gave me a pre-publication copy to review. But you can pre-order it now, and I highly recommend it.

Finally someone has told the story of what it’s like to be childless because your partner doesn’t want to have kids. Not childless by choice, not childless by infertility, but childless because of who you love. It happens more than people realize, especially when you marry someone who has been married before.

I told a similar story in my Childless by Marriage book, but I took a more journalistic approach, with lots of research and interviews. Shannon lays it out there in a beautifully written love story.

As a farm girl raised in eastern Oregon, Hollis expected to become a mother someday. But, after several failed relationships and a failed marriage, she met Bill, a man who didn’t want children. She pushed as hard as she dared to change his mind, telling him very clearly, “I want to have a baby,” but in the end she had to accept that she needed to enjoy the life she had with the man she loved. It is a life in which they are free to travel, to explore their passions, and to enjoy their many nieces and nephews.

Through the years, she had lots of doubts. Everyone else in her family had children. Her mother warned that she might grow up to be a bitter, lonely old woman. That fear haunted her, even as she began to realize she might be all right without children.

Hollis shares the frightening story of being sexually assaulted when she was 20. She also talks honestly about the friendships she lost because she found it hard to be around while her friends were having babies. The doubts, disappointment, and grief of childlessness are all here, along with the joys and possibilities. If you’re childless or looking at the possibility of being childless, read this. Even people with children and grandchildren will enjoy this book because it’s a good story, the first I hope of many terrific books by my sister Oregonian Jackie Shannon Hollis.

This Particular Happiness will not be released until October, but it is available for pre-orders at https://www.jackieshannonhollis.com/ as well as at Amazon.com. You can enjoy a lot of her writing as well as videos at her website. Check it out.

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Thank you for your kind words and prayers for my father and me. (See last week’s post) At this moment, he is out of the hospital and back at the skilled nursing facility. I’m back in Oregon, so we can only connect by phone. His voice sounds stronger and clearer than it has in months. He seems to have overcome his recent infections, but he still has a lot of issues. Plus, the nursing home lost all his possessions in the upheaval of going to the hospital and coming back to a different room. I ache to be there, so I can tear that place apart looking for his clothes, his bathrobe, his glasses and his electric razor. Grr.

In my post, I compared caregiving to being a mother. In the comments, most readers have insisted it is not the same, not at all, even if both involve diapers, feeding, and sleepless nights. Do you agree? There’s still plenty of time to join the discussion.

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Mother’s Day is Sunday in the U.S. I’m trying to pretend that isn’t happening. It will be hard to ignore when the moms are getting blessed at church. I can’t skip Mass because I’m leading the choir. But you do whatever makes you comfortable. Reach out to the moms in your life, go camping, or watch videos till your eyes hurt. Be good to yourselves. It will all be over on Monday.