Suddenly we’re all wearing maternity clothes

I became an adult in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when women wore mini-skirts and platform shoes, peasant blouses and bell-bottom pants. In high school, I had some psychedelic-patterned, tent-shaped dresses so big you could have hidden another person in there. They seem hideous now, but that was the style.

Pregnant women wore “maternity clothes,” stretchy bottoms and big blouses with Peter Pan collars, bows, and lacy sleeves. The object was not only to make room for the baby, but to be “modest,” a word we don’t hear much anymore. As desirable as it was to have children, there was something crass about showing one’s baby bump in public.

I never had a baby bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-I’m-so-bloated bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-please-God-let-me-be-pregnant bump. And these days I have a can’t-stop-eating-mayonnaise-and-French-fries bump, but I never had a baby bump. That did not stop me in my days as a young married woman from wearing big clothes and hoping people thought I might be pregnant. I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I might caress my belly and pretend there was a baby in there, but there never was.

In today’s tight dresses, there’s no way to hide one’s pregnancy status, but back then, it was easy to pretend, to play mommy-to-be dress-up.

More than the actual baby, I think I wanted the public affirmation of my womanhood, the approval, and the excitement of entering the next phase of my life. Instead of maternity clothes, I put on suits, narrow skirts, slacks and blazers for my career as a journalist.

Why do I think of this now? I realized the other day as I put on my leggings and matching “tunic,” that we’re all walking around in pseudo-maternity clothes. I could wear that stretchy outfit all the way to my delivery date if I were pregnant. I don’t know about where you live, but all the women and girls around here (Oregon) are wearing leggings. They’re only flattering if you have a perfect figure. They’re not warm enough in the winter. Some derrieres are showing that shouldn’t be shown. But oh Lord, they’re comfortable, and if you wear a big top, who cares how many French fries you eat.

Ironically, the women who are actually pregnant don’t try to hide their pregnancies. The other night at a concert, I saw a young woman wearing shorts and a tank top that stretched way out with her pregnancy of at least eight months. No frilly blouses and stretch pants for her. We have all seen celebrities flaunting their “baby bumps.” There’s no doubt what’s going on in their uteruses.

When you’re clothes shopping, do you ever accidentally find yourself in the maternity section? I rush out of there as if someone is going to catch me and point out that I don’t belong. What do you do? Do you long for those Baby on Board tee shirts or try not to look at them?

Am I the only one who has worn big clothes and hoped people assumed for a little while that I might be pregnant? Do you know anyone who has?

I apologize if this whole discussion is making you feel bad. From my post-menopausal perspective, it’s interesting. And now that I have Googled “maternity clothes,” I will be plagued with ads for pregnancy-related merchandise by the heartless algorithms of the Internet.

Here’s a look at maternity fashion through history. https://www.whattoexpect.com/tools/photolist/100-years-of-maternity-fashion

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Some great comments have come in on my previous posts about millennials delaying pregnancy. Check them out here and here. 

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My novel Up Beaver Creek is out now at Amazon.com. My first hard copies arrived yesterday. They are beautiful.

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Sue has a new book, Up Beaver Creek

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)People often say that for those of us without children, the things we create are our babies. For me, that would be my books. I have been making books in some form since I was an odd child wrapping my stories in cardboard covers and illustrating them with crayons. I keep promising myself that I will not produce another one without a six-figure contract and a big-name publisher, but oops, I have given birth to a new book, my eighth.

The idea just flitted by that I could do this like a baby announcement. You know: time, date, height, weight, a little picture with a pink or blue cap. Have you received as many of those as I have? Have they made you cry? So no, not doing that. Enough with the birth analogy. Although a friend and I had some fun the other day joking about how much it would hurt to actually give birth to a book, considering the sharp corners.

I hereby announce the publication of Up Beaver Creek, a rare novel in which the main characters do not have children and are not going to get pregnant in the end. In this story, P.D. Soares, widowed at 42, has gone west from Montana to make a new life on the Oregon coast, but things keep going wrong. The cabin where she’s staying has major problems, and the landlord has disappeared. She’s about to lose the house she left in Missoula, and her first gig in her new career as a musician is a disaster. What will happen next? Here’s a hint. The earth seems to be shaking.

Up Beaver Creek comes from my own Blue Hydrangea Productions. You can buy copies or read a sample via Amazon.com by clicking here. Click here for information on all of my books, a crazy blend of fiction and non-fiction, including Childless by Marriage.

A few of you served as Beta readers to help me with the final draft. You were a huge help. As soon as my big box of books arrives, I will send you your free copies. You’ll find your names in the acknowledgements.

Could I produce all these books if I didn’t have children? I believe I could. I might be fooling myself, but I’m always trying to live more than one life at a time. I succeed most of the time.

So, are our creations our substitute babies? Could they fill that hole in our hearts, the hole P.D. is trying to fill with music? Would it ever be enough? It isn’t enough for me, but it sure helps because my work connects me with wonderful people like you. I welcome your comments.

Can a childless novelist write about moms?

An early reader of my new novel Up Beaver Creek, coming out in June, thanked me for writing about a woman who has no children. My protagonist, who calls herself PD, is unable to conceive with her husband. They are starting to look into adoption when he is diagnosed with cancer. He dies, and she moves west to the Oregon coast to start a new life as a musician. Lots of things happen along the way to make it interesting, but none of it is about having babies.

PD meets a colorful group of new friends, including a lesbian couple, a bipolar man who has created a garden out of glass and cast-offs, a young soprano who becomes her best friend, and a music store owner who likes to jam.

Most of the characters don’t have children. Even for those who do, the children do not play a big role in this book. Did I do this on purpose? No, I think it’s the just the way I see life. I do not live in the circle of mothers and grandmothers. I occupy the circle of women who live alone. Occasionally those circles cross. Is this a handicap? Can I write about something I have never experienced? I worry about that sometimes.

Ages ago, I wrote a never-to-be-published novel titled Alice in Babyland. I was still fertile back then. Our main character, Alice, is surrounded by people having babies. It’s driving her nuts. It’s not a very good novel, but it’s how I was feeling at the time.

My published novel Azorean Dreams ends with Chelsea and Simão getting married and preparing to “start a family.” You just know they’re going to have a flock of Portuguese kids. But readers will have to imagine that part.

I have been rewriting another novel I’m calling Rum and Coke. The characters do have children. One of them is pregnant. I’m struggling to get it right, to make the children real people and the relationships and challenges among parents, grandparents and kids authentic. I will never know how it feels from the inside, only from the outside. There are a lot of other things I have never experienced. I count on research, observation, and imagination to write about them. Can I do that with motherhood? I sure hope so.

Think about the books you have read or, if you don’t read books, the movies and TV shows you watch. How often are people portrayed as permanently childless by choice or by chance? We see a lot of single parents and a lot of couples with kids, but how many do we see without children?

The book I just finished reading yesterday, Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas, has no children, but the characters are mostly college students under age 25. Presumably, they’ll think about that later. In the book before that, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, nobody was talking about babies, either, but Louisa was very young, and Will was a quadriplegic contemplating suicide. The focus was on making him want to stay alive. I have ordered the sequel, After You. We’ll see if babies show up there. (If you have read it, don’t tell me.)

Is the tide turning? Are we getting more books where the characters are not moms and dads? Is fiction beginning to reflect the fact that one out of five women in the U.S. and other developed nations is not having children and the number seems to be growing?

I’m pleased to offer PD as a strong, childless woman. I hope that not being a mother doesn’t mean I can’t write about mothers or anyone else.

Your thoughts?

Photographer assumes we all have kids

The young photographer was bent on selling me a package of photos. I kept saying no. I was only getting my picture taken so that my face would appear in the new church directory. I had no need for an expensive package of 8x10s and 5x7s. Never mind that I was horrified at how I looked in the photos. So wrinkly, my smile so fake, the poses so unnatural.

“Don’t you want to give them to your children and grandchildren?” asked this 20-something fellow with the dark ponytail.

“I don’t have any,” I said.

He sat back, his eyes wide. “Oh!” he said.

Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have oodles of offspring. If my pictures had turned out well, I might have bought some to use as author photos for my books and blogs. The photographer probably never realized I did anything besides mothering.

It’s one of those things people who are not in our situation don’t think about.

I don’t get my photo taken very often. I’m alone a lot. Not a single picture of me was shot at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Most of the pictures I post on Facebook are selfies—and I’m terrible at them.

Once my own church picture was done, I took over at the hostess table, signing people in. My friend Georgia, who has a bunch of offspring, didn’t buy any pictures either. She didn’t like how she looked. On the other hand, a couple from our choir bought lots of pictures to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Some folks brought their whole families, including kids and dogs.

Between arrivals, I had lots of time look around. One of the photographer’s flyers said: “Seniors: Don’t forget photographs for your children and grandchildren.”

Ahem.

I picked the least obnoxious shots for the church directory, pulled off my scarf and my earrings and thanked God it was over.

Ages ago, when my youngest stepson had just moved in with us, my husband’s job offered a family photo deal, so we dressed up and posed in the spotlight. The photographer kept calling me “Mom.” None of my stepchildren called me that. I barely knew the child who was now living with us, and I was really hurting over the fact that I might never have children of my own. I finally told him to knock it off. My name was Sue, not Mom.

We looked good in the photos, but “Mom” looked slightly annoyed. The guy probably called all the women Mom so he wouldn’t have to learn their names. He didn’t know how much that word can sting for those of us who want children and don’t have them.

What are your childless photo experiences?

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Thank you for your wonderful responses to my questions in last week’s post about what you’d like to see here. Most want stories about people who have overcome their grief and led happy lives without children. I will be on the lookout for those. Keep the comments and suggestions coming.

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I’m preparing to publish my next book, Up Beaver Creek, a novel set here on the Oregon coast. PD, the main character, is childless. After her husband dies, she is starting over with a new name, a new look, and a new location. Things keep going wrong, but she is determined to keep trying. Then the tsunami comes. You can read an excerpt here. 

I am looking for “beta readers,” people who are willing to read the book and answer a questionnaire about it to help me find any loose ends I need to fix. If you are interested, click here to fill out a form to get the process started.