Drugs for Bipolar Disorder Thwart Motherhood Dreams

Poet Sherri Levine always wanted to have children, but she has bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings, and her mother had it, too. Should she risk passing it on?

She takes lithium to manage her symptoms. Because of the risk of birth defects, it is not considered safe to take lithium during pregnancy, but she knows from hard experience that within two weeks of stopping her medication, she will become manic. The added stress of fluctuating hormones and her changing body will not help. 

Her doctor told her to let go of the motherhood dream. Her husband, who didn’t want children anyway, agreed, but Sherri was and still is devastated. “I don’t want to be an aunt; I want to be a mother,” she said, fighting tears. 

Why not adopt? Her husband didn’t want children, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the stress of the adoption process.  

So the choice was made. People don’t understand, she says. If she agreed not to get pregnant, why is she still grieving?

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

I think a lot of us here know the answer to that question. When we close the door on parenting, we lose a dream, the life we had expected to have, the children and grandchildren we might have had, a chance to live like our friends and relatives, and the right to claim a rose on Mother’s Day. It’s what Jody Day calls “disenfranchised grief.” You’re losing something you never had, so our friends and co-workers find it hard to understand.

People don’t talk enough about mental illness and childlessness, Sherri says. We need to get the conversation going. Those living with it need the support not only of a team of doctors well-versed on the conditions, medications, and risks, but supportive friends and families who offer love and acceptance.

In doing a little research, I find most of the attention focused on depression during and after pregnancy, not so much about going into a pregnancy with a diagnosed mental illness, such as bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression. It’s a big deal. Many psychotropic medications can cause birth defects in the developing fetus, but not taking them and leaving the illness untreated can be dangerous for both mother and baby. In some cases, it may be possible to find drugs that are safe, but not always. Sherri has looked at other possibilities, but none would manage her illness as well as lithium does. She couldn’t take the chance.

Over the years, childless people I talked to have mentioned concerns about mental illness as a reason they didn’t have children. It’s not always the woman with the problem. Men can pass on genetic-based illnesses to their children. They may also feel that their illness makes them incapable of being good dads. 

A few things are clear:

  1. It’s not just bipolar disorder. There are risks taking any kind of medication during pregnancy. Bipolar medications are particularly dangerous, but there are some drugs that seem to be a bit safer. Medications for depression and anxiety also may endanger the baby, and stopping them could endanger both mother and child. 
  2. If you take prescription drugs for emotional issues, you need to confer with your mental health professional, OB-gyn, and primary care doctor about the pros and cons of pregnancy. You will need support from your partner, along with a team of people who really understand this stuff. 
  3. Ask them: How dangerous is it for me to continue my meds? How dangerous is it to stop? Is there something else I can take that would be safer? Do you think I can handle the stress of pregnancy and childcare? 
  4. Ask more than one professional. The answers are rarely black and white.

Have you or someone you know struggled with mental illness that became a factor in their decision about having children?  Were you/they concerned about medication and birth defects, passing the illness to their offspring, or being able to cope with the added stress of being parents? Let’s talk about this. Sherri Levine, who wrote about this topic here a few years ago, has offered her email address for people who want to talk privately with her about this. You can reach her at sherrihope68@gmail.com.

Some resources: 

Bipolar and Pregnant by Kristin K. Finn, 2007. This looks very helpful, although Amazon has only used copies.

Bipolar and Pregnant by Katie McDowell, 2017. It’s more of a memoir of a woman who did get pregnant shortly after her bipolar diagnosis. Looks good.

International Bipolar Foundation

Mayo Clinic symptoms and causes of bipolar disorder

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Fighting Mistaken Identity on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a day full of people thinking you’re someone you’re not.

You walk into church, and the usher hands you a flower. “Happy Mother’s Day!” If you explain that you are not a mother and reject the flower, they seem insulted.

The priest or minister asks all the mothers to stand for a blessing. You remain seated and feel as if everyone is staring at you, wondering why you don’t stand. You’re a mother aren’t you? Of course you are. But no, being a female of a certain age does not mean you are a mother. Must you explain that to every single parishioner when it’s easier to just say, “Thank you. You too.”

Wherever you go, it will be the same all day. Brunch, a quick trip to the store, a concert: Happy Mother’s Day, happy Mother’s Day.

Moral dilemma: if moms get a discount on Mother’s Day, should you accept it?

Meanwhile, if your mother or mother-in-law is still alive, you need to honor them, which means dealing with family. Do your relatives or friends who know you are not a mother assume you don’t want or like children? Do they hang together talking about kids, leaving you chatting with the cat, or do they keep telling you that you’ll be the next one getting pregnant when you know that isn’t going to happen?

Again, mistaken identity. They don’t understand who you are or why you might be a little weepy or bitchy on this day.

If you’re a stepparent, Mother’s Day brings a whole other kind of mistaken identity. Your friends may decide your stepchildren make you a mother, but you may not feel like a mother at all because the kids have a mother and she is not you and you might not get any recognition, not even a card, from your partner’s offspring.

The only ones who understand are the non-moms who are going through the same thing.

Every year I urge those of us who hate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to stay away from social media and avoid trigger settings. Go for a hike. Paddle a kayak. Jam with friends who care more about music than Mother’s Day.

But part of me says why should we have to hide? Can’t we just love the moms in our lives and let them love us for the people we are?

My wish for you this year: Do what makes you feel good. Be honest about who you are and how you feel. We need to teach the world that we don’t all have the same lives and that’s okay.

So, Happy Spring!

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Some resources you might enjoy:

Jody’s Day’s Gateway-Women chat about childless Mother’s Days.

Brandi Lytle’s “mom-heart” perspective from her NotSoMommy blog.

Lissa Rankin’s heart-warming take on non-mothers and Mother’s Day

Have Non-Parents Failed at Life? Definitely Not

If you’re not a mother, what are you? Years ago, I faced this question from a 4-year-old at a Montessori School where I was taking pictures for the newspaper. If I was not a teacher or a mommy, what was I? She didn’t understand when I explained that I was a newspaper reporter. In her world, all women were either teachers or mothers. It’s a question that continues to come up for those of us who have not had babies. 

Jody Day looked at this phenomenon in her recent Tedx Talk, “Social Plankton: Why Single Non-Mothers are the Fuel of the Future.” Most of us here at Childless by Marriage are not single, but much of what she said still applies. For example, she asked what other terms of respect do we have for older women besides “grandmother.” Well, um, hmm. 

Until life got in the way, I hoped to be “Professor” or “Doctor.” What else do we have? Director? President? Boss? But what if we are just regular people who happen to have never had children? 

As Jody Day says, we still have great value to society. Although she was specifically speaking about single women and not men at all, look at what non-parents can do:

  • It takes a village to raise a child. We are part of that village as sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, role models, and helpers.
  • Because we are not taking care of children, we have time to be more involved in our communities, doing the volunteer work that parents cannot.
  • We are the ‘backbone” of many organizations. For example, I have led several writers’ organizations, been a teacher, and a church choir director. 
  • We serve as society’s “elderwomen” and “eldermen,” source of memories, skills, and wisdom.
  • We offer loving hearts and extra hands.  

In some circles, Day noted, childless women are considered failed women because they did not live out their biological mandate to procreate. While we may grieve the loss of the life we had planned and the children we might have had, we are not failures. 

I have just finished reading a book by Kamalamani aka Emma Palmer titled Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind. I will write more about this fascinating book next week, but she has some encouraging words about the topic at hand. “What is increasingly clear to me is that the life work of each of us is to find out what to do with the time and health we have available to us. I do not think that we are all on the planet to have children. In fact, I am starting to wonder whether in our generation, a growing minority of us are here to start to redress the attention we pay to our relationship with the earth and other elements, and our effect on them as a human specifies, rather than creating more new lives.”

Kamalamani quotes Jane Barrett in Will You Be a Mother? Women Who Choose to Say No: “The space in the childfree woman’s life is not empty and barren, but full of potential.” 

We may consider ourselves “childless” rather than  “childfree,” but you get the idea. If we don’t have children, all is not lost. It’s not the life you planned, but your life is still important and of value. 

You can listen to Jody Day’s Tedx talk here

I welcome your comments. 

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I placed in a poetry contest recently and won an invitation to a national competition in Florida. Yes, I am pleased. But as the director started talking about the accommodations where we’ll be staying and how my kids will love it, I thought, oh no, not again. Should I explain that I will be coming alone because I don’t have any children or just let it go? I let it go. We were having such a nice talk up till then, and I will enjoy the dinosaur-shaped swimming pool as much as any child would. 

Mother’s Day is coming. Our priest is already talking about the pancake breakfast and how the church will honor all the mothers. Grit your teeth. Here it comes again.  

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Are You Giving Up or Have You Had Enough?

What’s the difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough? Sheri Johnson addressed that question at her “Awakening Worth” podcast recently. Johnson, a Canadian mindfulness coach who struggled with infertility, offers an extensive program for people trying to figure out life without children. Many of her points in this podcast can be applied to our childless-by-marriage situation.

The main difference between giving up and deciding you’ve had enough comes down to fear, she says. You give up out of fear, fear of regret for not doing more, fear that if you did have a baby you would regret it, fear of judgment from other people—why did she stay with him? Why didn’t he stick with her?

We may give up out of fear that we’ll end up alone. What if you leave him and never find anyone else? What if you try to have a baby on your own and it doesn’t work? What if the adoption falls through? What if you push too hard and he/she leaves you? What will people say if you never have children or grandchildren?

“Giving up is quitting because of fear. It’s quitting before you can fail.” It’s an act of self-preservation, Johnson says.

Deciding you’ve “had enough” is the other side of the coin. It’s an act of self-care. You have reached your end point. In her case, it was stopping fertility treatments. For someone else, it might be deciding that you need to end your relationship or that you will choose childlessness because your relationship is too precious to give up. It takes courage, tons of courage to say, “This is what I need to do for myself,” no matter what anyone else thinks.

What do you think? Are you giving up or deciding you’ve had enough? Is the question even valid in your situation? Are you not ready to make a permanent decision either way? Let’s talk about it.

You can read Johnson’s views on the subject at her website, https://sherijohnson.ca/54/. You can find more podcasts and writings about childlessness and “worth,” along with various services and things to buy. She offers a free “worthiness” quiz you can take. You can also find her on Instagram at awakening.worth.

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The “Nomo Crones” are meeting again. This international group of childless elderwomen led by Gateway Women’s Jody Day will meet via Zoom on Sunday to talk about being childless vs. childfree. It’s a subject we discussed here in January, but there’s so much more to say. For those of us who are childless by marriage, I think the line between choice and non-choice is always a little hazy. If we had chosen another partner, we might not be childless. Register at bit.ly/nomo-binary, and tune in at whatever time fits your zone. It’s noon Oregon time, 8 p.m. in the UK. I would love to “see” you there. You will not be on camera, so don’t worry about blowing your anonymity, if that’s a concern. You will be able to talk to us in the “chat.” Join us, and let us know what you think. If you’re not a “crone” yet, even better. We need to hear from all ages.

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Tickle Your Ears with These Podcasts About Childlessness

Dear readers,

Podcasts abound on just about every subject, including childlessness. I often use them as sources for this blog, and today I’m going to share a few. I find most of them via https://www.listennotes.com, which is an inexpensive service that allows you to plug in any topic and get a list of podcasts on the subject. You can also go to Apple or Spotify for similar results.

Geeta Pendse: 1in5 Podcast

Most recently, I listened to the brand new 1in5 Podcast. It covers all sides of leading a life without children, whether by choice or by circumstance.” Host Geeta Pendse plans to explore a range of subjects, including the pressures of social expectations, the biological clock, infertility, ambivalence around parenthood and embracing a life without kids, in whatever shape that comes.

Civilla Morgan: Childless Not by Choice

I can testify that I find Civilla’s voice soothing and her interviews enlightening.

“The Childless not by Choice Podcast is the story of an entire segment of society that goes largely ignored and misunderstood as we live and sometimes hide, in plain sight. I lived that story. I am living the story. Childless not by Choice is a podcast about the woman and man who wanted but could not have children. Of course, I invite everyone to listen. Because this is also a podcast that was created to bring awareness and conversation. It is a message for everyone: we are all walking the journey called life. But our paths are not the same. When we realize this, our minds will open up to the realization that we can treat each other with understanding, empathy, and grace, regardless of our journey, our paths.”

Jody Day: Gateway Women podcasts

Jody Day, who is frequently interviewed on other people’s podcasts, also conducts her own podcast interviews of other people, as well as hosting the quarterly Nomo Crones Childless Elderwomen chats that I have participated in. Find a wealth of listening pleasure at her Gateway-Women site.

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Robin Hadley: podcasts about childless men

Remember our discussion last week about childless men? Robin Hadley, who sparked that post, has a great list of podcasts on his website at https://www.robinhadley.co.uk/podcasts/ to give us the male point of view.

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That should keep you busy while I do a little more research for my next post. I didn’t want to give it to you half-baked. A hint to what it’s about: ambivalence.

If you know of other podcasts we might be interested in, please share in the comments.

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My sweet Annie celebrated her 14th birthday yesterday. That’s 98 in dog years. She has weathered her tumor surgery quite well. The lab decreed that it was not cancerous, to our great relief. Today the vet will probably remove the last of her stitches, and she will soon be free of the plastic cone around her head.

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Let’s Go Into Christmas with Grateful Hearts

Dear friends,

It’s almost Christmas. I know this is a tough time for people who are grieving the loss of the children they might have had. We also miss those who have passed away. I know I would give anything for another hug from my husband or to hear my mother laugh again. But we have to accept things as they are right now, today.

Look around you and see all the good things you do have: your health, your home, the wonderful people in your life, good food, and this beautiful earth on which we live. Just now, I looked out my window and saw wild birds having a party. Bright blue Stellar’s jays, brown-and-orange varied thrushes, and black-hooded Oregon juncos grazed on the lawn while a purple-breasted swallow swooped across the sky. A hint of blue showed through the clouds, and my Sitka spruce stood tall and strong despite decades of harsh wind, rain and frost. The winter solstice has passed, and we will be getting more daylight every day. There is much to be grateful for.

Yes, we are surrounded by people who have children when we don’t. It’s easy to resent them. Don’t. Love them, and love their children. Be glad they are here. If you are meant to be a parent, you will, but meanwhile, don’t blind yourself to everything good in this season of light and joy.

I wrote the words above ten years ago, in December 2011, but they are still true.

One year ago, I pondered whether Joseph was childless by marriage because Mary already had a child fathered by the Holy Spirit and, at least in the Catholic version, they didn’t have any kids together, or whether Jesus couldn’t be a dad because he was God and had other plans. I must have been hitting the eggnog. But it’s something to ponder. Click here to read the whole post.

I was also talking about COVID. Who knew we would still be wearing masks and worrying about the virus? Are you staying home again this year because of the extra-contagious Omicron variant? I hope you stay well and that if the virus does hit you, it comes and goes quickly.

I mentioned that I had just had an online chat with the Childless Elderwomen/aka Nomo Crones, hosted by UK childlessness guru Jody Day. We have been Zooming for over a year now, and we met again yesterday (today in Australia time). It was an amazing talk that started with the topic “Spiritual Malnutrition” and took many fascinating turns. You can watch the video here. [Side note: bangs or no bangs???] One of the things we agreed on was that we older women would like to be available to help younger people who are in the throes of their childless dilemma. Check out Jody Day’s Gateway Women site for ways to network with other childless women.

The book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, had just come out. Read about the book here. https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2020/12/09/announcing-love-or-children-when-you-cant-have-both/ The book is made up of posts from this very blog with some added introductions from me. So, in a way, it’s your book, too. Grab a copy here.

They’re talking about snow here on the Oregon coast. It would be a nice change from floods and mud. Wherever you are and whatever the weather, Merry Christmas, and may God bless you all.
Hugs,
Sue

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Those Moments When You Really Wish You Had Kids

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

As I was standing tiptoe on the step stool after replacing a light bulb in the office, fighting to hold the glass cover, the metal thing that goes over the hole and the knobby thing you need to screw in to hold it tight, my arms screamed in pain, and I knew that any second I would either fall or drop everything. No wonder my father and my mother-in-law waited for the “kids” to come over when their lights burned out. I’ve had four go this week. I have run out of bulbs. The fixture over the kitchen is hanging crooked because I couldn’t get the metal plate thing back on and gave up. Also, plaster from the ceiling above the fixture was falling into my hair.

I got the office light hung because I had to. I was still in my bathrobe at the time. When I went to get a blouse out of the closet, the sliding door came off its track. It’s wide and heavy, and I have a bad back. It’s sort of in place now, but I’m afraid to touch it. It’s like this all over the house. I’m perfectly willing to pay someone, but finding a reliable handyperson around here is difficult. I have had several. Some were drunk, some were idiots, and some came once to start a job and never returned. Then there’s the guy who hung a door meant for indoor use on my garden shed. In the cold weather it has buckled and swollen to the point I can’t open it. I had to borrow a shovel from my neighbor because all my tools are in there, along with the spare key to the house.

It’s crazy to live in a four-bedroom house alone. I do not want to move into a senior residence like several of my friends have done lately. I just want someone to help me take care of things. Lacking a husband makes it hard, but most women outlive their husbands. I can look back at the women in my family who gutted it out alone. But they all had adult children who helped them, who did everything for them in their very old age. I know, I know, having children is no guarantee they’ll be around to help, but most of the time they are.

The view from my window today is gorgeous. Blue sky behind winter-bare alders and spruce trees. Red deck and railing that I painted myself. A lush green lawn. I love my home. But there’s that door I can’t open. And the kitchen fuse blew for no reason the other night.

I’m a family of one woman and one old dog who follows me around expecting me to take care of everything. Married people who have children soon expand to more and more people. Husband and kids. Grandkids. Great-grandkids. And all of their spouses. So many people. And I’m just one.

The other night in the hot tub—repaired recently at huge cost, and now I wonder if it’s leaking—it occurred to me that if I had had children with my first husband, they would be in their 40s by now, and their children would be in their teens or 20s. There might even be a great-grandchild. If I had had children with Fred, they would be in their mid-30s. And I would not be driving alone to California for Thanksgiving. I’d be spending the holidays with my kids. In a self-pitying fit of depression, I shouted to the world, “I should have had kids! I fucked up!”

And the world said . . . nothing. So I buried myself in work and got over it. If you dwell on these things, you’ll go nuts. The truth is, I didn’t f-up. I never really had the opportunity. End of story.

I should be boosting you up, giving you advice. But this is the 773rd post at the Childless by Marriage blog, and I’m running dry. Please, tell me your stories. Submit a guest post. Share in the comments how you get past those moments when you just can’t stand it, when you might have very logical reasons for being childless, but suddenly none of them make sense. Most of you are much younger than me and are still in the middle of your journey. Tell us about it.

We’ll talk about Thanksgiving next week. Between now and then, you might want to attend Jody Day’s webinar “Reclaiming the Childless Holidays!”  next Saturday. If you can’t attend the live presentation (9 a.m. PST), you can watch the recording later. Register here. https://bit.ly/3wVam9p I signed up.

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How Does Childlessness Affect Your Sex Life?

Got your attention? This year, World Childless Week devoted a whole day to talking about sex. What’s sex got to do with it? Everything.

As Michael Hughes of the of the Full Stop podcast noted in a fascinating session, it all comes down to the sperm and the egg and how they need to get together to make  baby. In other words, sex. We don’t talk about it much, he said, but it’s a big thing.

Hughes and his podcast partners Berenice Smith and Sarah Lawrence are all childless through infertility. Each talked about how their efforts to conceive took the joy and spontaneity out of sex. It became less about intimacy and pleasure and more about making a baby. Every time they did it, the question hovered over them. Will it work? Will it lead to heartbreak with another miscarriage or failure to conceive? And how can you feel good about your body when it is not doing what it’s supposed to do or when you’ve gone through so many procedures you really don’t want anyone to touch you? Or when it physically hurts? After a while, they didn’t really want to do it.

The three said it took years after they gave up on trying to conceive to feel good about their bodies and enjoy sex again. Even now, it’s not quite the same as the old magic they had at the beginning.

In another session led by Jody Day, women in all aspects of the childless journey, including those who have never found a partner to make babies with, talked about their struggles with their bodies and sexuality and shared suggestions for learning to feel sexy again. It’s a wonderful session. You can watch the recording here. Also read Jody’s essay “Where Did She Go? Reclaiming My Erotic Self After Childlessness.”

I know that some of you are dealing with fertility issues. How is sex for you? Is every encounter about trying to make a baby? Or is it always a reminder that certain parts aren’t working?

For me, I can’t say that it affected my sex life. With my first husband, we were using birth control, but I always had that hope that when the time was right, we would welcome children.

With Fred, who had had a vasectomy, conception was never possible, and it was not part of our sex life, except for the relief of not needing birth control. We were not trying to make a baby. Our goal was simply intimacy and orgasms, and it was good. Now, listening to these people who struggled with infertility, pain, and hating their own bodies, I am grateful for my health. My body has its issues, but I like it just fine, and I still feel sexy.

This is the Childless by Marriage blog. Infertility is only one of many reasons we don’t or may not have children. If you or your partner are unable or unwilling to conceive, how does that affect your sex life? Do you think about it during sex? Does it make you not want to have sex? Do you resent using birth control because it’s keeping you from the babies you want to have? Do you think about the sperm or eggs being wasted because they’re not being given a chance to connect? Or does being childless free you to enjoy sex without the baby worry?

Sex is a tricky subject. How does being childless or potentially childless affect your sex life?

Do comment. You can be as anonymous as you choose to be.

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Is It It Better to Keep Hoping for a Child or to Move On?

My husband is 23 years older than I am and had a vasectomy 20 years ago, during his first 20+ year marriage. When we initially got together I told him I could not imagine not being a mother someday. I also told him that I was absolutely okay with adoption and that I had never been incredibly attached to the idea of carrying and giving birth to our children.

Cut to several years later. My husband and I went through two rounds of IVF (very begrudgingly on his part). After that, we had an adoption fall through very late in the process. My husband then made his opinion very clear that he was done trying and had absolutely no interest in trying anything further to have a family with me. He unfortunately made it very clear that he was only attempting everything up to this point for my feelings; he never wanted children with me.

My husband is the love of my life and I could not ever imagine spending my life with anyone else. Time has passed and I have acknowledged that children are not in the cards for us. Largely in part from your blog and books, I have realized that there is more to my life than childlessness.

My husband and I were talking yesterday about a coworker who had had a miscarriage (after having one healthy child). I asked, “Is it better to have no hope at all? Or is it better to have hope? Hope that today may be the day?” I often wonder this now that I have in large part accepted the facts in regard to my childlessness. I wonder if it is better to have this hope that your situation will change and that you may finally get what you long for so dearly? Or is it better to have no hope at all about ever having children?

–Lynne

Hope. It can be the thing that keeps you going. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Maybe he’ll change his mind. But how likely is it? When do you give up hope? Are you putting your life on hold just in case things change?

I was looking up quotes about hope last night. There’s a long list at Goodreads.com. I was struck by this one by author William Faulkner: “You cannot swim for the horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

That could be interpreted as: if you don’t let go of the dream of being a parent, you’ll never discover the other wonderful things you could be. Or in the words of UK childless guru Jody Day, you’ll never find your Plan B.

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

Fashion designer Coco Chanel put it more simply: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

And Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are just as many writers who preach holding on to a dream no matter what. Without hope, they ask, what’s the point?

But which will make you happier today, tomorrow or next week? For me, menopause ended my angst over whether I might maybe somehow still be a mother. The baby factory was closed. Before that, while I still had viable eggs, I fantasized about getting pregnant. I had hope. But I was running out of time, and it drove me crazy. Now that the possibility has ended, I feel more at peace. Sometimes I also feel grief or regret, but I often feel that my life turned out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t have babies, but look at all the wonderful things I have had.

Lynne, thank you for sharing your story. It will resonate with many readers.

What about you? Is it better to keep hoping? Does the hope keep you going? Or would it be better to know there’s no hope for that dream, so you could let it go and look for a new dream?

I welcome your comments.

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The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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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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