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.

 

Advertisements

Do the Childless Get Ripped Off at Work?

Childless employees, especially women, get the shaft in the workplace. Right? How many times have you watched a co-worker run off to watch a soccer game or take her child to the dentist while you had to cover her hours or finish her work because hey, you don’t have any kids to worry about?

Jody Day, speaking at the NotMom Summit earlier this month, described five areas of dissension:

1) The dominance of mom talk and mom activities. People who just want to do their jobs are subjected to baby showers, mothers bringing their babies to work, baby pictures, and co-workers conversing about subjects the childless don’t feel comfortable joining in.

2) Unfair holiday allocations. Who gets to work on Christmas? Not the moms and dads.

3) Lack of consideration for any real-life needs besides children.

4) Caring for parents, pets, spouses, etc., does not get the same consideration as caring for children.

5) Unfair work load distribution. Give it to her; she doesn’t have kids.

Does any of this sound familiar? I have certainly felt left out when the moms at work all gathered to talk about their kids. But I haven’t experienced discrimination in the same ways that others have. During my years in the newspaper business, we all worked nights, weekends, and holidays, lucky if we got time for lunch. I suspect my co-workers’ kids were fending for themselves.

I think we have to understand that it’s not easy balancing work and family. Children require a lot of maintenance. Somebody has to take them to doctor and dentist appointments, pick them up when the school calls, or accompany them to sports activities or lessons. Somebody has to take care of them when they’re not in school. Parents would tell you that’s more important than any job.

But how is that our problem, you might ask? It’s bad enough that we don’t get to have kids and now we get extra work dumped on us because of it? It’s definitely not fair. Employers need to understand that we have lives, too, and that includes taking care of our homes, spouses, pets, and aging parents. And ourselves. We need time for doctor and dentist appointments, too.

I’m rambling. There’s a situation going on at my church job that has me totally distracted. It has nothing to do with the fact that three out of four of us employees never had children, more to do with working for a crazy person. I’ll bet you can identify with that, too.

So I turn the discussion over to you. Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace because you are the one without children? Are you constantly forced to deal with baby pictures, baby showers, and baby talk that just makes you feel worse about your own situation. Let ‘er rip. I want to know.

Here are just a few of many articles on the subject of workplace discrimination against employees without kids.

“Discrimination Against Childfree Adults”  by Ellen Walker, Psychology Today, May 2, 2011

“Family-Friendly Workplaces are Great, Unless You Don’t Have Kids”  by Amanda Marcotte, Slate, June 21, 2013

“Do Childless Employees Get the Shaft at Work?”  by Aaron Guerrero, U.S. News & World Report, July 17, 2013

I await your comments.

How Much Would You Give to Have Children?

How far would you go to have children? What would you be willing to sacrifice? A reader who is calling himself Anonymous Max has commented several times on my Sept. 27 post “Are You Ready to Accept Childlessness?” For him, the answer is clearly no.

AMax has two stepchildren, but he does not feel like a father to them.  He has tried mentoring and working with other people’s kids, but it’s the not same. He will not be happy until he has his own biological child. Following a miscarriage and years of trying, he and his wife have realized they won’t be able to have children in the usual way, but he’s not giving up. He plans to hire a surrogate to bear their child, implanting sperm and egg into another woman’s body. To afford it, he is working three jobs and investing as much money as he can.

The cost of surrogacy varies. Estimates online range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance is unlikely to cover it. A lot of emotions become involved when you’re asking someone else to carry your baby and give it up when the pregnancy is over. AMax says his wife was hesitant at first, but is “on board” now. It’s a difficult path, but they’re determined to take it. I hope AMax will keep us informed about what happens.

Most often here, people ask about whether or not to leave their partner to find someone who will have children with them. Leaving someone you love is a huge sacrifice and an equally huge risk. What if you never find a new partner? What if it’s too late to get pregnant when you do?

“Lifeasitisbyme” reported recently  that her husband is divorcing her so she can go have children with someone else. She says, “I’m completely heartbroken as I still love him. He doesn’t feel it’s fair that he’s holding me back on having a family and doesn’t feel he’s been fair to me. At this point I’m confused. I love him dearly and I’ve started to wonder if having children is more important than losing my soulmate.”

What if your spouse or partner suddenly said, “I’m letting you go. You need to have children and I can’t give them to you.” What would you do?

Is your need to have children so strong that you will sacrifice anything to be a mom or dad? Do you want it as bad as AMax? Do you feel guilty if a voice inside says, “I’m not sure.”

Think about it, friends. Perhaps it will answer some questions for you.

***

In the wake of the NotMom Summit, I have added some new books and websites to the resource page. Clink on the link at the top of the page to check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

NotMoms Meet to Talk about Childless Life

Tomorrow I’m flying to Cleveland, Ohio for the NotMom Summit, a conference for childless/childfree women. I have never gone that far from home without a husband, but at this point I’ve been alone so long I don’t even remember how to travel with another person.

It might be nice to have a companion, but I like my space and my freedom. I can’t imagine traveling with children. It’s hard enough getting myself organized and arranging for my dog’s care. Foods, pills, dog-sitters, feeling guilty for leaving her.

My dear departed husband would have wanted to come along. If he had, I would have spent the whole conference worrying about him. He’d be asking, “How long is this workshop going to take?” “What took you so long?” and “Why can’t I come to the pajama party?” And that was before he got Alzheimer’s. If he stayed home, I’d make myself crazy preparing his meals in advance and checking in with him by phone every day.

Being unfettered is nice. I’m trying not to feel like a weird person because I like to travel on my own.

I will have to call my father and pray that he stays healthy until I get home. He doesn’t understand what this conference is about. NotMoms?

It’s a little strange for me, too. I’m used to writers’ conferences, where everybody’s asking “What do you write?” and stressing about pitching their books to editors and agents. Keynote speakers tell their stories of how they went from rejection to the best-seller list. Workshop leaders talk about plot, characters, marketing, revision, etc. The books in the bookstore are all about how to be a writer–because every other writer is writing a book about how to be a writer. I wrote one, too. Took it to conferences, taught workshops, sold copies to wannabe writers, of whom maybe 2 percent might actually write and publish anything.

But this conference is so different. We’re going to talk about real life. We’re not all writers. The thing we have in common is not having children. What we do for a living is irrelevant, except that maybe not having children allows us to follow our passions more freely. I’m not sure what the opening question will be. “Childless by choice or by circumstance?” “Are you infertile, too?” At least, for once, we won’t be the only ones in the room without offspring.

I’ll be selling my Childless by Marriage book, and I will probably buy several other people’s books about being “notmoms.” But we’ll talk about relationships, money, aging, health and other real-life topics with people who understand. How often does that happen in our day-to-day lives? Where else can we be totally honest about this childless business?

I’ll take lots of notes and share what I learn. If you’re going to be in the Cleveland area this weekend, you can still reserve a spot. For information, click here.

 

 

Treasure the Childless Life You Have

Earthquakes in Mexico. Hurricanes and flooding in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other places, wildfires burning up the western United States, terrorist attacks everywhere. The news keeps bringing more shades of awful. Is the world ending or what? We’re safe so far on the Oregon coast, but the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the long-feared tsunami came today.

At the beginning of September, people now dealing with natural disasters were alive. They had homes and jobs. They shopped, ate out, went to church, played sports, and made love. Now it’s all over. Many of those who survived have lost everything, including loved ones. Life is short and unpredictable, my friends.

A woman named Nita recently wrote on the Childless Not by Choice Facebook site that her husband had passed away this year at 64. A few months later, her sister-in-law died, and now her brother-in-law is dying, all of cancer, all too young. In the midst of her grief, she urged people, “Please make the most out of your lives now, do things you enjoy together, laugh together, love together, make amends with family members whether or not children are involved because after it is all over with, you won’t get another chance.”

She’s so right. We don’t know what’s going to happen. If we spend all our days grieving for what might have been, we never get around to appreciating what—and who—we already have. Sometimes we just have to curse a little and move on. You didn’t get the life you expected, but take a look at the life you have. Don’t waste it. I know how hard it is. I was mired in anger and self-pity for years. But give it a try. The water could rise or the earth start to shake any minute.

I hope you’re all okay. If you’re in one of the disaster zones, you’re in my prayers. Consider this: If you don’t have children to take care of, you’re freer to help those who do. Please be safe.

Me, I’m taking care of my dog, who is huddling close, frightened by the thunder and lightning happening right now in our first big storm of the season.

***

On a more cheerful subject, I leave for the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio in two weeks. Imagine a conference where nobody is talking about their kids because they don’t have any. I’ll be speaking about aging without children. If you have thoughts about what I should include, please share them in the comments. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, join us Oct. 6-8. Tickets are still available.

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 get about me. 🙂

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