Can you let go of the dream of being a parent?

“Let It Go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore . . .” The hit song from the first “Frozen” movie has been playing in my head since lunchtime yesterday when I read the chapter on “Letting Go” in Lesley Pyne’s book “Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.” It’s a great song that I’ll never sing as well as I’d like to, and I wonder if I can ever do what the song says. Can I let it go?

Pyne insists that unless we let go of our dream of motherhood/fatherhood, we cannot move on to other dreams and possibilities. I have this vision of a toy boat caught in a swirling current. I send it away, and it keeps coming back. But maybe that’s how it is when you’re childless by marriage rather than physically unable to have children as Pyne and the other women described in her book are. They have tried for years, suffered multiple miscarriages, and spent great amounts of money and hope on infertility treatments that didn’t work. They reach a point where they’re 99 percent certain they are not going to have babies. The barriers of age, money, and physical limitations create a solid wall. They can mourn forever or let go of the dream and move on. Pyne suggests we hold letting-go rituals and get rid of the “grief museum” of things we have gathered for those children who aren’t coming.

I know some of you are in this boat, with you or your partner physically unable to reproduce. My heart grieves for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain of repeated attempts and losses. You should let yourself grieve as much as you need to. Pyne devotes a long chapter to grief. Unless you let yourself feel the grief, you cannot move on, she writes. You can’t run from it. Maybe you need to burn the baby clothes and remove all signs of baby prep in order to start to see a life without children.

But what if you’re not sure it’s over? What about the many readers here for whom the problem is their partner, the one who is unable or unwilling to have children with them? If you changed partners, you might become a mom or dad. The barrier between you and parenthood is not a solid wall, more like a barbed wire fence. If you decide to climb through it, you’ll get cut and scratched, but you’re tempted to try it. Are you willing to let go of the baby dream to stay with your partner? Are things good on this side, except for the not having babies bit. You’re not too old yet. How do you let that dream go? If you truly can’t, does that tell you what you need to do?

Can we let it go? Should we let it go? I find myself resisting. At my age, I know I’m not having children, but what’s wrong with keeping those crocheted baby booties I wrote about in a previous post? What’s wrong with thinking of the names I would have chosen for my children and fantasizing about what they would be like as adults?

I have always had other dreams that had little to do with children, and I have been living them all along. Even when my childless grief was at its peak, I was writing and performing and living a beautiful life with Fred. I did grieve, and it still hits me sometimes, but I have always kept living my life. Maybe I kept riding my boat in circles, but I like my boat and I like my circles.

No two childless journeys are the same, but you might want to check out Pyne’s book. It’s loaded with stories from childless women and step-by-step advice for getting out of the riptide of childlessness and on the way to a different but equally wonderful journey. Pyne, who lives in London, blogs at https://lesleypyne.co.uk/news-blog, and her website, https://www.lesleypyne.co.uk, offers a wealth of resources.

We who live near the ocean are told that if you get caught in a riptide, it’s best to swim with the current until you reach a place where the tide is weaker and you can swim out. Fighting it will only get you carried out to sea. Something to think about. We will all need to let go to a certain extent at some point, but how far down the beach that is will be different for each of us.

How about you? Are you ready to let go of the dream? Have you already done it?

***

My dog Annie, whom I wrote about here recently, is doing much better after her frightening bout with Vestibular Disease and two weeks in the veterinary hospital. She still gets a little wobbly, but is alert, independent, and always hungry. We are so glad to be together again. Thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes.

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Our pets are not baby substitutes, but . . .

Are our pets baby substitutes? We have talked about this before, and my answer to anyone who says, “Well, at least you have your dog,” is that it’s not the same, but recent events have made me think about this more deeply than ever.

My dog Annie has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas. Because nothing local was open during the Christmas weekend, I took her to Corvallis, 55 mountain-road miles from where I live. The Willamette Veterinary hospital is incredibly busy. Due to Covid, people can’t go inside with their pets. I have now waited in my car in the parking lot for 12 hours spread over three different occasions and waited for phone calls every minute of every day and night. I constantly wonder if the vet will tell me it’s hopeless and recommend that she be euthanized. I constantly fantasize that the vet will tell me Annie is up and walking, hallelujah.

Day after day, they say she’s “about the same.”

Until Christmas afternoon, she was having a great time with me and “Auntie Pat.” She shared our Christmas food, went for a walk, and lay between us enjoying our company. Then she went to get up and collapsed. Got up, collapsed again. Somehow, falling again and again, she made it to the back yard, where she lay soaked in the rain and refusing to move until my neighbors helped me get her into the car. Christmas was so over as I sped in the dark to Corvallis.

At almost 13, after two knee surgeries, Annie has severe arthritis, but her main problem is something called Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo that makes it impossible for her to find her balance. At first, she looked like she’d had a stroke, her face scrunched up on one side, her body falling to the left. She wouldn’t eat or drink, just kept whining and crying. Now she’s eating and drinking and acting much like herself, but she still can’t walk on her own. She has worn a catheter to urinate, which led to a urinary tract infection. She has bed sores from lying on her left side so much. Are we just putting off the inevitable?

The doctor asked me to buy a “Help ‘em Up” harness that lifts under her shoulders and hips When I brought it, I could visit. Wonderful. I would be able to see for myself whether Annie was still Annie. I got up early and drove to Corvallis, then called from the car to say I was there. An aide whisked the harness away, saying she wasn’t sure about a visit. But I could wait. I waited. All morning.

I watched the woman in the next car be reunited with her little dog. The dog licked her face, sniffed her all over, and settled on her shoulder, much like a baby, finally going to sleep, safe and content with “Mom.” But not Mom. His mother was a dog. The woman is his human, the person he trusts to take care of him. Watching them, I sobbed. I hadn’t seen my dog in 12 days and the way things were going, I wouldn’t see her that day either. They kept telling me they were too busy to arrange a socially-distanced visit.

At 12:30, I got them to let me in to use the restroom and broke their Covid protocol to accost the receptionist and beg to see my dog. She went into a back room to check. Maybe later today, no promises, she said. I went back to my car and cried some more. I felt cold, hungry, and hopeless.

In late afternoon, I was thinking I’d have to drive home without a visit when they told me to come in. Annie and I met in a little sitting room where the workers put blankets on the floor and brought her dinner. It took two of them to get her there, using the harness. Three hours of driving and five hours of waiting were all worth it just to hug my Annie and tell her I loved her, to stare into those big brown eyes. She looked better than when I brought her in, but she was not ready to go home. Maybe a few more days with the harness . . . God knows how much money this is costing me, but I don’t care.

This morning while I was in the shower, the doctor left a message that Annie is about as good as she’s going to get and is ready to go home. I have appointments and work to do today, and I don’t know how I would get my dog out of the car or into the house. The folks at the veterinary hospital don’t seem to understand that it’s just me here. No husband, no kids, no roommate. The four other people who live on this street are gone during the day. My friends, mostly older, are hiding from Covid. I don’t know what to do.

She’s just a dog, some might say. But she’s my Annie, my person, my partner, and my dependent. Because I am a childless widow with no family nearby, Annie is the only flesh and blood mammal I can hug freely and with whom I can be completely myself. I have cared for her from 7 weeks to old age. We have been through so much together.

Last night, I thought about what our pets are to us, what Annie is to me. I had watched an old episode of the TV show “Parenthood.” Talk about triggers—everybody is dealing with their parent-child relationships, and it just made me cry. Somehow I felt like a worried-sick parent as I watched. I am not Annie’s mother. But I have been responsible for her care since she was a puppy. She depends on me. She loves me, but she does not take care of me. She is my companion, but not an equal one. I control the keys, the leash, and the can opener. “Mother” may be the wrong word, but it’s something like parenting.

Whatever you call it, she’s an integral part of my life, the one I greet in the morning and say good night to when I go to bed. Child. Best friend. Partner. Roommate. Old Auntie. Pet. Pride and joy. A human is not supposed to be all these things wrapped into one body. You’re either a child or a best friend, a partner or a pet. But a dog can be all these things. Annie is.

The vet hospital “hold” recording that I have heard over and over refers to us as “pet parents.” The receptionist has asked if I’m “Annie’s person.” They don’t say “owner,” which I suppose would be accurate, too, although I hate the sound of it. I did pay for Annie, just like I paid for my car, but it’s a lot different.

Whatever we are to be called, a dozen of us sat for hours in that parking lot in the rain waiting to have our dogs taken care of or waiting to be reunited. Sitting there, I remembered my mother coming to get us after school on rainy days, the safe feeling when my brother, the neighbor kids, and I were in the car heading home.

If I bring Annie home tomorrow, I will have to cancel my few outings for the foreseeable future. I don’t know how I will manage by myself, but at least she will be on this side of the mountain and we’ll be together.

I have gone on too long about my own problems. The country is going crazy this week, and that is very frightening. But the subject of the day is our pets. Mine is a dog, but cats, rats, gerbils and llamas count, too. What are our pets to us and what are we to them? I still say they are not a baby substitute. For many, many reasons, it’s not the same. So, how do they fit into the picture for you? I welcome your comments.

Will the New Year Bring Babies, Breakups or ???

Adios, 2020. Happy New Year? This has been a year far beyond our control, a year when the “normal” just around the corner keeps moving beyond our reach. We’ve seen lockdowns, businesses closed, and people sick or dying of a virus we had never heard of a year earlier. We’re wearing masks and minimizing contact with other people except by computer on Zoom—never heard of that before 2020 either. Wildfires, hurricanes, political upheaval, Brexit—we’ve had it all. In the midst of this craziness, when most of us are just trying to survive, how can we even think about having babies? What if you’re single? If you didn’t go into the pandemic with a partner, how could you think about dating?  

I often compare COVID to musical chairs. Whoever you had with you when the music stopped, that’s who you have for the duration. If you had no one, well, welcome to my world. As I write this, even my dog Annie (pictured above as a puppy) is gone. She has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas, when she collapsed with a type of vertigo called Vestibular Disease. It looked like a stroke, but it’s not that. As of now, she is back to eating and drinking and can sit up, but she still cannot stand or walk. Will she recover? I don’t know yet. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Now that we have a fresh new year, a blank page on the calendar, can we go back to normal? Can we go from sick to healthy, fearful to confident, isolated to together again? To eating in restaurants, attending concerts and plays, working out at the gym, going to church, and throwing parties?

If only. On Jan. 1, we will still have the same problems we’ve got on Dec. 31, including childlessness. I have lost nine people I cared about this year, one to COVID, the others to the maladies of old age. I wish there were more children coming up behind them to fill the gaps they leave behind. I have my nieces and nephews, but they are far away, and I haven’t seen them in person in over a year.

I hope 2021 can bring some added daylight to your situation. As I have said in past years, make this the year that you speak plainly to your partner about childlessness and make a conscious decision to accept a life without offspring or do something about it. When you can’t have this partner and children, which are you willing to give up?

That’s the question explored in our new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. I just got my copies yesterday. It offers the best of my blog posts and your comments, and I hope you buy it.

As we wind down, although we can’t see the future, we can hear the stories of older women who have lived the childless journey at Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen webinar today, Dec. 30, at noon Oregon time. Speakers include Jody Day, authors Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Donna Ward, and Maria Hill, “NotMom” founder Karen Malone Wright, and me. This will be my first Zoom outing with this international group. To participate, click here and go to the registration link near the bottom. The session will be recorded, so you can listen another time if you can’t make it today.

I wish you all the best of new years. May the problems that keep you awake at night be resolved and much happiness come to you.

Big socially distanced hug,

Sue