Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

Yesterday at lunch I heard that a friend’s daughter’s fiancé has announced he does not want to have children. The person telling me this didn’t want me to say anything about it, and he quickly changed the subject. He was probably supposed to keep it a secret. And he probably didn’t understand why I got so angry.

Why does this happen so much? People keep writing to me about mates who won’t procreate. They share heartbreaking stories, and I don’t know how to comfort them. They ask whether they should leave and look for someone else to make babies with or stay and remain childless. Or will he/she maybe change their mind? They tell me about forced abortions and failed fertility treatments, about parents who complain about not having grandchildren, and about how awful they feel at baby showers and other child-centered events. I remember how I felt in my 30s and 40s. So hurt, so angry. Age has made it easier, but it still hurts. Just last week, I saw a young man down the street and realized I could have had a grandson that age, and oh God, I wanted so bad for it to be true.

I realized that my lunch companions knew nothing about my Childless by Marriage book or this blog. They knew I didn’t have kids, but they didn’t know why. They were both great-grandparents with pictures on their phones to show me. In their world, everyone has children, including people who probably shouldn’t.

I could see they were not following me, so I shut up, but I’m still angry. I have known this young engaged woman since she was little. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and loving. She lived with her fiancé a long time before he proposed marriage. She left her home and family to live on the other side of the U.S. with him. The wedding is soon. She has already made the arrangements, already bought her dress. Now he tells her he doesn’t want children? What is she supposed to do now? I want to throttle the guy. What right does he have to take motherhood away from her? I hope he changes his tune, but the fact that he said it will always be hanging out there. He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?

I hate that this keeps happening.

I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, but I can’t help it.  It’s just not fair.

I know you understand.

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Graduation day: When everything, including motherhood, was possible

On June 7, 1974, I sat with my fellow journalism graduates in the middle of the football field at San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium, baking in our caps and gowns. Everything was changing that month. After 16 years of school, I would finally be free of classes, homework, finals and term papers. I could pursue my blossoming career in newspapers, and in two weeks, I was getting married.

I don’t remember who spoke at the ceremony. I have vague memories of people passing marijuana cigarettes and tossing a ball around. My classes done, I was obsessing over clothes. A sewing maniac in those days, I had made the blue and white seersucker mini-dress that I wore under my robe. I was making my wedding dress, one of the bridesmaid’s gowns and new outfits for the honeymoon. I was dealing with flowers, photographers, and last-minute bridal showers. I was setting up our new apartment, which I had no doubt would be only a temporary home until we bought a house. Soon I would be having babies and writing books, living the life I had always expected to live.

I was so very young, 22 going on 12. Look up “naïve” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of me. Webster defines it as “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment.” That pretty much nails it. Raised in an extremely restrictive home, I hadn’t had my first date until my first year of college. By the middle of my second year, I was engaged. I had had three actual boyfriends in those 18 months or so before I hooked up with Jim.

Hooking up didn’t mean what it means now. I was a virgin until three months after I started dating Jim. And I probably would have stayed a virgin a bit longer if he hadn’t pressured me so hard to have sex, and if I hadn’t gotten drunk and let him because I knew he’d dump me if I didn’t. Ladies, how many of us have given in simply because we were afraid to lose the guy? Anyway, coming from this strict Catholic background with minimal knowledge of the world, I assumed that since we were having sex, we were getting married. And since he was getting pressured by his parents to find a wife, he said, yeah, sure, we’ll get married. No ring, no down-on-his-knees proposal, and oh by the way, let’s not tell anybody yet. Anybody hear warning bells? I heard them, too, but I thought I had made this commitment and had to stick with it.

As for having kids, I had no idea he wouldn’t want them. He was great with other people’s children, and I just assumed he’d be great with ours. Did we talk about it? Nope. He did escort me to the college health clinic to get birth control pills. He did have a supply of condoms on hand. After we were married, his theme song was “not yet.” Turns out he wasn’t big on employment, monogamy or sobriety either, but lest you think he was just a big shit, I loved the guy with all my heart. We had a wonderful time together. The sex was amazing, and we could talk for hours. I thought we’d be married forever.

I thought I’d be a mom, and our parents would be fabulous grandparents. I’d also have the career of my dreams. Like I said, naïve. As the marriage died, we agreed that we could have had a fantastic affair but should never have gotten married.

If I had just said no to sex with Jim or enjoyed the sex but realized I didn’t have to marry him, my life might have been completely different. He would have dumped me, and I might have married someone with a good job, someone who wanted the house and kids, maybe even someone who’d go to church with me. But no. I thought this was it. It didn’t have to be “it.”

I haven’t talked to Jim in over 30 years. I have heard that he remarried two more times and never had any children of his own. I don’t think much about him or our six-year marriage. Fred, who came later, was my real husband. I didn’t have babies with him either, but the love we had was worth it. And we did talk about it.

On that hot day in San Jose when I graduated from San Jose State, I had no idea what was coming. What would I have done if I’d known? Should a person get married two weeks after graduation? I don’t recommend it. Live a bit first. And take time to make sure you have the right partner. Life is not like “The Bachelorette,” where you have to make a decision in 10 weeks. Be sure. And if you’re not sure, don’t do it.

Does this stir any thoughts or memories? I’d love to hear your comments.