Childless Suffer ‘Disenfranchised Grief’

On a recent podcast, UK childlessness guru Jody Day and host Kathy Seppi talked about “disenfranchised grief.” We have talked a lot about grief here at Childless by Marriage, but something clicked in me when I heard that.

What is disenfranchised grief? Grief researcher Ken Doka defined it as “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Let me put it another way. You have suffered a loss, such as the chance to have children, but other people just don’t get why you’re hurting or acknowledge your right to grieve.

Seppi, whose Chasing Creation podcast focuses on infertility, said disenfranchised grief is “the feeling you have to prove how much it hurts.”

Jody Day, who is also a psychologist, added, “We want people to see our pain.” Grief changes a person, she says. Our lives might look completely the same from the outside, but grief changes how we feel about it from the inside.

At a site called whatsyourgrief.com, Litsa Williams lists 64 situations where people tend not to acknowledge the right to grieve. They include death of an ex, moving to a new place, losing a friend, and death of a dream. Losing the family you had expected to have certainly fits on that list of things we grieve but other people don’t understand why.

Not long ago, I sang at a funeral for my friend’s husband. I found myself in tears. Not only was I sad for her and missing her husband, who was also my friend, but I felt my own losses–my father, my mother, my husband. But most strongly, as I watched my friend’s adult daughter holding onto her, taking care of her, I kept thinking who will be there for me? Once again, I grieved the loss of the children I never had.

The grief is there. I will always be different from all those people at the funeral who have children. It’s not something I could speak of, certainly not that day, and not something that anyone would have thought about when they saw me trying to wipe away tears around my COVID mask.

I don’t look bereaved. You can’t tell from the outside. I’ve got a pretty good life. But still, that thing is there. Aug. 21, on the first anniversary of my father’s death, I posted a picture of him with me and my brother as babies on Facebook. No one will ever post a picture like that of me, and that hurts.

Childless grief is tricky. If you had a baby who died, you could hold a funeral. You could maybe dress in black and avoid society for a while. But grieving for something that never existed, for the lack of something you wanted with all your heart? People will say buck up, you’ve got a good life, look at all the freedom you have and all the money you’ll save. Right?

If you burst into tears at the office . . . well, you feel like you can’t. You mustn’t. And yet we do want people to see that we’re hurting and to offer comfort. Just like when we were little kids and skinned our knees, we want someone to hug us and bandage our wounds, to acknowledge that we are hurt.

With childlessness, it’s like we didn’t get that doll we saw on the TV commercial; what right do we have to cry and carry on? We want to be held. We want someone to stop the bleeding. We want someone to say we didn’t realize how much it hurt. Here is your doll. Now wash your face and we’ll go get ice cream cones. Isn’t that what we want? Of course it is.

You know what? I think it’s okay to express our grief right out loud. I wanted to have a baby. My heart hurts because I never did. Will you hold me and help me feel better? Let’s say it out loud.

COVID be damned, I want to hug all of you.

Please share your thoughts.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Jody Day’s Book Nails the Childless Story

jody coverLiving the Life Unexpected: How to Find Home, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children by Jody Day, Pan-McMillan, 2020.

If you don’t know about Jody Day, you should. Check out her website at gateway-women.com. She has been supporting childless women (sorry, guys) for as long as I have and built it into something big and wonderful. Unable to have children, Day is an upbeat cheerleader for those of us who for whatever reason are among the one in five women who do not procreate. Now she has a new edition of her 2013 book, Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for the Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children.

Day, founder of Gateway Women, has become a guru for childless women, with her blog, workshops, talks, and meetup groups for non-moms seeking support. The new edition has been polished, updated, and expanded from the new cover, title and subtitle to the extensive resource list, with new quotes and examples throughout. As a childless writer with her own book on the subject (Childless by Marriage), I hate to say it, but if you’re a childless woman, you’ve got to read this book. Read it, work through the exercises, and find your way to a life in which you can feel peace with the fact that you’ll never be a mother. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to have children, you might not be ready for Living the Life Unexpected because it emphasizes grieving the loss of motherhood, accepting it and moving on. Then again, maybe it will help you decide.

Listen to this quote from chapter 2:

“ ‘Failing’ to become a mother, particularly when there are no obvious medical issues, is seen primarily as some kind of ‘choice’. (You know, the ‘Well, if you’d really wanted to have a baby you would have just done so’ comments that can leave us winded with outrage and at a loss as to how to respond.) Because, for those of us who’ve lived that choice, we know that it’s a damned- if- you- do, damned- if- you- don’t kind of choice, for example:

  • What choice is it to choose to become a mother with a partner you’re not sure is going to stick around?
  • What choice is it to choose to become a single or partnered mother in a society where childcare can cost almost your whole salary?
  • What choice is it to put off motherhood until you (and your partner) can afford it, but risk age-related infertility?
  • And so on . . . ”

Does that ring any bells? It sure did for me. So did many other parts of this book.

m8leL6dADay, who has become a psychotherapist since the first edition came out, applies her new skills here as she writes about guilt, ambivalence, grief, and the many other difficult feelings we may be having about our failure to have children. Did we really not want to? Should we have made difference choices? Will we ever stop feeling horrible?

In this edition, Day looks at how millennials and younger generations are dealing with the baby-no baby situation. In many cases, they are having a difficult time with the financial aspects–cost of living, student loan debt, no workplace support, etc. Even if they want children, how can they possibly afford it?

Chapters and exercises look at the realities of motherhood. Day looks at the situation for single women, gays, and those who have had abortions. Sections touch on the role of religious faith, how things have changed in the last 50 years, the effects on a relationship when you give up the motherhood dream, role models, fears and myths about aging without children, and figuring out what to do with your life if you’re not going to be a mother. We get facts and figures about childlessness and related topics and an extensive list of resources to consult for more information.

The exercises are tremendously helpful. They can be used alone or in a group to move step-by-step from giving up hope for the life you expected to opening up to new possibilities for the life you have.

It’s one of those books that you’ll get something different out of every time you read it.

Tomorrow, March 19, is the release date for the new edition. Mother’s Day in the UK is March 22. This post is part of a blog tour Jody has set up for various websites. Click here for information about that. Pamela Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority and Brandi Lytle at Not So Mom are also posting about the book today. Jody is an amazing marketer who refuses to be silent about childlessness.

You can order the book here. Or you might win one. Jody will send a free copy to the first person who comments on this post. Other blogs on the tour also have opportunities to win copies of Living the Life Unexpected.

I don’t know about where you live, but more and more places are asking everyone to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Why not read a good book during this quiet time?

Here in Oregon, we are being asked to stay home except for the most essential trips. Schools, public buildings, restaurants and bars are closed. As in other places, our numbers of infected people are creeping up. It’s a scary time, but I forgot all about it while reading Jody Day’s book. Stay well.

 

 

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?

Childlessness needn’t define who we are

“Childless is one of the many things I am.”

A year ago last weekend, I was at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to Jody Day say this. At the time it was one of many things the founder of Gateway-Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children, said as I scribbled madly to capture it all in my notebook. But this one line alone gives me a lot to think about this week.

Last Sunday at church, we listened to a visiting priest preach that sex is only allowed in marriage and only for the purpose of creating children. Furthermore, all forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization are sins. What do you tell the men who insist on having sex before, during and after marriage? What if you can’t have children? What if you and your partner disagree about whether to have children? This young bearded priest, presumably celibate all his life, has no idea how complicated real life can get. It is never black and white, more like a rainbow of colors.

And what does he say to those of us in the pews who have not used our bodies as vessels for children? Are we then worthless? Once again, I’m saying things that might get me in trouble at my church job, but they need to be said. It’s not just the Catholic church either. I’m hearing preachers of other denominations on the news saying women should be content with their role as mothers. But what if we can’t be mothers?

We are not worthless. Childless is just one of the things you and I are. It’s a big thing. It makes us different from 80 percent of the adults around us. It affects everything else in our lives. That’s why I wrote my Childless by Marriage book. I wanted people to know how different our lives are because we never had children. But Jody Day is right. It’s not everything, and we should not miss all the good things in our lives because of the one thing we missed.

I am not just a woman without children, any more than I am just a woman whose husband died. I’m a dog-mom, musician, writer, homeowner, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I have a family history I’m proud of. I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree, and the bookshelf bearing my published works is getting full. I like to cook, travel, take long walks, do yoga, learn new songs, watch movies, and read books. I dabble in needlework and make quilted wall hangings. If I could do it over, I might be a mother, too, but I can’t waste my life dwelling on what I don’t have or letting people make me feel like damaged goods because I failed to procreate.

How about you? What else are you besides someone without children? Even if you’re still hoping to have children, there’s more to be proud of. Let’s make a list to remind ourselves that childless is not all we are.

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

Friends make the best kind of family

Hey! We survived the holidays. I spent most of mine either at work or alone at home, so I didn’t have much opportunity to be bothered by people who are obsessed with their kids. By maintaining a sort of tunnel vision, I could ignore all the images of happy family gatherings that did not include me. I dared not dwell on the sadness of not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve and opening my Secret Santa gifts alone—and yes, those presents that showed up on my doorstep in a priority mail box a week before Christmas were the only ones I had to open on Christmas morning.

I gathered a few other gifts along the way from friends at various holiday gatherings, and I am grateful to them, especially to my friend Pat who had earrings custom-made for me on her trip to Mexico and Sandy who welcomed me to her early family Christmas dinner, where I received several wonderful gifts. I got a check from my dad, Portuguese food from my aunt, and Amazon gift certificates from my brother’s family. But nothing under my little tree to unwrap. And the beautiful Christmas stocking my godmother made many years ago remained in the box with the other unused Christmas doodads.

I think I have figured out where the Secret Santa gifts came from. I wasn’t involved in any organizations that did secret gift exchanges, so it was a mystery. None of my friends admitted to it. It had to be someone who could mail the box from Newport, Oregon, just north of where I live. It had to be someone who knew I had a dog named Annie . . .

The senior center. A few months ago, I attended a meeting there for people living alone and concerned about getting the help they needed. We filled out forms that told about our pets, our hobbies, and our interests. We talked about getting together again, but we haven’t so far. I think that list triggered the Secret Santa packages. I’m not going to ask; I want to leave the identity of the gifter a secret for now. If the staff or regulars at the senior center were the ones, I’d like to help next year. It means so much to have someone notice you’re alone and send you gifts without asking for anything back.

This reminds me of the couple from church who used to give me chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Easter because they knew Fred wasn’t around to do it. Ann and Dick. They were in their 80s then. Dick has since died. Ann is disabled now and needs a lot of help, which her neighbors provide. They care for her like family. She has a son somewhere, but he’s not around much.

Friends. The family you create. I think that’s the key to surviving in this world where families are so spread out and so complicated and where it can hurt so much to be the only ones without children. Many of the singers in our church choir went off to see the grandchildren for Christmas or hosted family for the holidays. God bless them. At my house, it was just me and Annie. It was okay. We read, watched videos, walked, ate too much, and relaxed.

When people have children, their holiday activities are pretty much set. They know who they’ll be with and what they’re going to do, whether they want to or not. Those of us who are childless get to choose, and that’s good.

So how were your holidays? What are you looking forward to this year? Have you already blown your new year’s resolutions like I have? Stay on the diet, do yoga every day, practice the piano for an hour . . . Right. Feel free to whine, complain, celebrate or commiserate in the comments. I’m anxious to hear how it’s going.

I leave you with a gift: Jody Day’s anti-New Year’s rant on her Gateway Women page. Read it. I think you’ll identify with some of her feelings.

Hang in there. We’re going to have a good year, in spite of everything.

 

Childfree or Childless, We’re All NotMoms

“Are you childless by choice or by chance?” That was the question women asked each other at the NotMom Summit last weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. For once, no one was asking how many children we had or when we were going to start having babies. We already knew that the answers to those questions were none and probably never.

A vast gray area exists between women who have never wanted to have children and women who would give anything to have them, between women who rage about how difficult it is to get a doctor to tie their tubes for permanent sterilization and women who spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments in the hope of getting pregnant. Keynote speaker Jody Day, founder of Gateway-Women, has published a list of “Fifty Ways Not to Be a Mother”  and says she could probably list another 50.

We shared stories of troubled childhoods; physical problems such as fibroid tumors, endometriosis and cancer; spouses who did not want to have children; choosing art over motherhood, and women who just plain didn’t want to have any babies. We laughed and cried at different places depending on where we were in our childless “journey.” When you desperately want a child, it’s difficult to applaud someone who just got her tubes tied or who boasts about being happily childfree.

In her talk, Day told us about an abortion she had early in life when she truly didn’t want to have a child. Later, when she wanted to conceive, she was never able to get pregnant again. Over the years, she said she has worked through her grief and come to a place where she can embrace being childfree.

The other keynote speaker, Marcia Drut-Davis, a bit older than most of us, told us about how she was vilified when she admitted on television that she did not want to have children. Her presentation was hysterically funny, and yet I knew that we had opposite views. Not only do I still wish I had children, but I’m oh-my-God Catholic and actually agree with Pope Francis and his views on family life. And yet, I loved her, and she was sweet to me when we met.

I heard later that Drut-Davis was criticized by some as not really being childfree because she had stepchildren. That’s nuts. Stepchildren are not the same. I expected criticism to come from the childless side. I keep thinking about the woman from Montreal who froze her eggs before having surgery for cancer and has never been able to get pregnant. I see her tears and think, hold on Marcia, do you know how hard it is for her to hear what you’re saying?

We had a pajama party Friday night to view a rough cut of a film titled “To Kid or Not to Kid,” produced by and starring Maxine Trump (no relation!). In the opening scene, she lifts her shirt to show us the scars from surgeries in her teens on her Fallopian tubes and uterus. She is not even sure she can get pregnant, but she wants to make sure she never does because she does not want to be a mother. In the film, she tells her husband and her mother how she feels about having children. We watch as her husband has a vasectomy. She meets with a young woman who has seen one doctor after another trying to have sterilization surgery. No one will do it.

The film is very pro-childfree. I considered going to bed instead of watching the whole thing. After all, so much of it clashes with my religious beliefs and my personal desires. And yet, I was mesmerized and sympathetic. Maxine, sitting there with us in her pajamas, has clearly suffered over this issue and knows how risky it is to open herself up to how the world at large might react in our pro-motherhood society. Her film uncovers many issues that nobody ever talks about.

By choice or by chance? Once we have made our choice or accepted that we will never have children, we have a lot in common. People say stupid things to us: “Why don’t you just adopt?” “You’ll change your mind.” “Women without children are immature and selfish.” We all feel left out when our parent friends are too busy with their kids to spend time with us. We all get sick of looking at other people’s baby pictures. We all worry about ending up old and alone. We’re all minorities in a world full of mothers.

There was considerable talk about the journey from “childless” to “childfree,” about reaching a place where one can celebrate the freedom that comes with not being a parent. I don’t expect to ever declare myself “childfree.” I wanted children and I still feel bad about not having them. The best outcome for me is simply to be at peace with how life turned out and enjoy the many blessings that I have.

At the end of the conference, motivational speaker DeLores Pressley, childless by early hysterectomy, got us dancing and shouting affirmations along the lines of “I am wonderful.” Then she had us form two circles facing each other. Oh boy, one of those touchy-feely exercises, right? We were to look directly into the eyes of the woman across from us for 10 seconds, until DeLores rang a bell, then move to the next woman. At first we giggled and squirmed, but then tears appeared in many of the women’s eyes and we started hugging each other before we moved on. As instructed, I tried to send a silent message. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” My eyes filled with tears, too. It’s okay to cry. It’s also okay to dance.

I will be posting thoughts from the conference for weeks to come. There’s so much to talk about. I gave a general overview of my trip on this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog post. Read it here.

Let me know in the comments what you think about this childfree/childless situation. Can you be friends with someone who is happy to never have kids? Or does it hurt too much? Could you ever reach a place where you declare yourself happy to not have children? Let’s talk about it.

NotMom Summit brings non-moms together

Notmom logoImagine yourself in a room filled with women of all ages who are not mothers, women who will not ask you how many children you have or when you’re going to get around to having them, women who will not brag about their grandchildren because they don’t have any either. That’s what it’s going to be like at the NotMom Summit, a conference for childless and childfree women happening Oct. 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio.

I will be one of the speakers there. Other speakers will include many of my heroines from the childless/childfree world. They include Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected; Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix and Families of Two; Marcia Drut-Davis, longtime parenting choice advocate and author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream; Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness; Karen Malone Wright, founder of The NotMom, and so many more amazing women.

I have never been to Ohio, and I have never met any of these women except online. I expect to be totally jet-lagged and star struck.

Topics include “Women Without Children: Then and Now,” “NotMoms on the Job,” “How to Manage Your Money,” “Singles Without Kids,” “The Medical Upsides and Downsides of Being a NotMom,” “Getting Older Just Like You Planned It,” and “On the Big Screen: Childless and Childfree Stories.” There will be opportunities for women in similar situations to meet and for women who live near each other to get together.

Attendees will get a chance to talk about the stuff that they can’t always discuss with their families, their friends or even their partners because they just don’t get it or don’t want to hear it. This is amazing to me.

It’s $395 for the whole conference. You can also opt to attend for one day or one of the keynote speeches. For details, visit https://notmomsummit2017.sched.com/tickets. If you are anywhere nearby or can get there in October, think about attending. To be honest, I’m spending much more than I’m making, but I think it’s going to be worth it. If nothing else, I’ll have a lot of new things to share with you here on the blog.

There’s more to The NotMom than just the conference. Visit the website at https://www.thenotmom.com. They’ve got a blog, a list of resources, a list of famous women without children, and a forum where people can talk about this stuff. Click around the site and have fun. Just don’t forget about me. 🙂

Meanwhile, keep those comments coming on the existing posts. I love a lively conversation.

 

Book Review: The Pregnant Pause

 

The Pregnant Pause by Jane Doucet, published by All My Words, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2017.

Does she want to have a baby? As her 37th birthday approaches, that’s what Rose keeps asking herself. She loves children, but also loves her job. She and her husband don’t have much money, and he won’t commit until she’s sure one way or the other. He feels no pressure. He will still be fertile for many more years. Plus he’s not getting harassed by parents, co-workers and even strangers who want to know why she hasn’t reproduced yet. Nor is he the one to whom his mother gave a book of baby names for Christmas.

Readers of this blog and my Childless by Marriage book will recognize many of the situations Rose faces–the clueless remarks, the friends obsessed with their offspring, the fear of waiting too long, the spouse who won’t commit to parenthood, the wondering if you’re not cut out for motherhood.

In this enjoyable novel, Doucet hits all the familiar notes. Childless or formerly childless readers will nod in sympathy. I especially ached for Rose as she tried to get her husband to explain why he hesitated to have children. He really didn’t want to talk about it (sound familiar?). Rose asks why he doesn’t want children right now. Is it because he thinks he’d be a bad father? No. Is it the loss of sleep? No. He finally admits he doesn’t want the responsibility. What if she got pregnant by accident? Would he leave her? “No, of course not. But I wouldn’t be happy about the situation . . . are we finished with this discussion?”

This self-published book by a long-time Canadian journalist could have benefited from another run through the copy editor to deal with tense inconsistencies and add more life to the dialogue. But bravo to Doucet for offering a novel in which children are not guaranteed. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Doucet’s website: www.thepregnantpause.net

Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the author.

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Have I mentioned the NotMom Summit? It’s a two-day conference happening Oct. 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I will be one of the speakers, along with many of the most active women in the childless/childfree community. Jody Day of Gateway Women is coming all the way from the UK. We’ll have Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman; Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix, Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness, and so many more. Think about coming. For once, you will not be surrounded by moms. For details, visit https://www.thenotmom.com. I would love to see you there.

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Readers, We have been getting lots of great comments on recent posts. People are talking about stepchildren, childless women’s roles, Klinefelter’s syndrome and more. Scroll back to past weeks and join the discussions. Or use the search box at right to find subjects you want to read about.