Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Amelia Earhart: Flying the Child-Unfriendly Skies July 24, 2012

In honor of Amelia Earhart Day, Kathleen generously agreed to give up her regular Tuesday “It Got Me Thinking…” spot. But don’t worry, she’ll be here tomorrow, sharing a Whiny Wednesday rant.

Today is Amelia Earhart Day, so in honor of the 115th anniversary of her birth, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Cheroes.

Children and family were never in the cards for Amelia Earhart. The pioneering aviatrix, always baffled by “the rules of female conduct,” considered marriage to be a cage, something she wouldn’t consider “until I am unfit to work or fly or be active…” Sam Chapman, Amelia’s first romantic suitor, discovered this the hard way after the pair had been engaged for several years. Even when she finally accepted the sixth proposal from George Putnam, she was still unsold on the idea of marriage. Instead of settling into the respectable life as a “domestic robot,” Amelia sought to conquer the skies.

Her illustrious flying career began in 1921, when she took her first shaky flying lesson. She was a confident flier, although not always competent. According to her teacher, Neta Snook, what made Amelia stand out from other pilots was her, “gut courage that transcended the sanity of reasoning.”

Amelia wanted to prove that women were just as capable as men in the air, and she sought opportunities to display her daring and prowess whenever she could. She attended airshows and performed aerial stunts, but she also wanted to be taken seriously as an aviator. In 1928, she got her opportunity when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Although she was little more than a passenger on the flight, keeping the plane’s log and keeping her pilot and mechanic supplied with hot tomato juice and chocolate, she became an instant sensation.

Amelia understood the power of publicity. She knew the importance of keeping her name—and her face—in the news. She curled her straight hair into its signature, tousled style and once reportedly crawled (unharmed) from the wreckage of her crashed plane, powdering her nose and saying, “We have to look nice if the reporters arrive.” When she met George Putnam, a renowned publisher interested in her story­—and more—she found a ruthless promoter of the Amelia Earhart brand.

Amelia was often criticized for her stunts and for being motivated by fame. Although she took her celebrity seriously, she took her flying more seriously, and continued to rack up a long list of aviation firsts. She became the first woman to fly from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, and competed in the first Women’s Air Derby, where she finished third after stopping to help a friend who had crashed. She set new records for speed and altitude, and helped establish the first organization of women pilots, The Ninety-Niners.

Then, in 1932 she made another attempt at the Atlantic crossing, this time as a solo pilot. Despite battling an ice storm and a badly leaking fuel tank, she touched down in Northern Ireland on the morning of May 21, 1932, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her accomplishment catapulted her from famed aviator to superstar of the skies.

In these early days of aviation, flying was a dangerous endeavor. Amelia had crashed many times, although she had always walked away unhurt. Many of her peers were not so lucky. Three of the five women who had attempted the transatlantic crossing before her had disappeared, and even the world famous Harriet Quimby was unexpectedly ejected from her aircraft in Boston only months after becoming the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.

Motherhood and flying did not mix well, and many of the most intrepid aviators of the time had hung up their flying helmets when marriage and children beckoned. Neta Snook, who had first taught Amelia to fly, had been a fearless barnstormer and aviation pioneer, once telling the press that she could “fly as cleverly, as audaciously, as thrillingly as any man aviator in the world.” But when she married and became pregnant, she gave up flying, sold her business, and more or less disappeared into domestic bliss, eventually dying peacefully and without flourish at the age of 95.

Elinor Smith, who became the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16, earned herself the nickname “The Flying Flapper of Freeport” and became the first woman to appear on a Wheaties box by setting records for endurance, speed, and altitude. She had even flown under all four of New York City’s East River bridges, but eventually she hung up her flying helmet to raise four children in a quiet suburban life. Consequently, she lived to be 98.

Even Amelia’s first opportunity to fly across the Atlantic came about because of another pilot’s commitment to family. Although Amy Phipps Guest had the desire for adventure and the means to fund a transatlantic endeavor, her plan was foiled when her family got wind of it and her daughter pleaded with her to call off the attempt, crying that her mother would “end up floating in the ocean.” She scrapped her daring plans and lived to be 86 instead.

Flying was a dangerous business and, even though Amelia liked children, she knew that motherhood would force her to give up her career, and that would mean disappearing into domestic oblivion. At 39 years old, and with commercial aviation already gaining popularity, the opportunities for setting new records as an aviator were rapidly diminishing. Amelia knew she had just one last opportunity to become an aviation legend—by flying around the world.

When she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set off on June 1, 1937, she couldn’t have known quite how the trip would seal her place in aviation history. Just over a month later, as her plane headed for Howland Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Amelia lost radio contact. She and Noonan were never seen or heard from again. To this day, their disappearance remains a mystery, sparking theories of suicide, faked death, and a top-secret government spy mission. There was even speculation that Amelia and Fred had made it to some tiny uninhabited Pacific island, where they are still waiting to be rescued.

Regardless of what happened to Amelia Earhart, she carved a permanent place for herself in history and inspired countless generations of aviators. As her close friend Eleanor Roosevelt said of her, she helped women to see that there was nothing they could not do. Mrs. Roosevelt—whose own dreams of flying had been firmly quashed by Franklin—told reporters, “I’m sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

As many of you will have already heard, the world lost another great Chero yesterday. Sally Ride passed away peacefully after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. You can read Kathleen’s National Women’s History Month profile of Sally from March 2011.

 

With Eyes of Faith: Chero, Elisabeth Leseur March 22, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“Those whom we encounter on our earthly path

often see in passing the outer wrappings of our being

and go their way, confident of knowing us well enough. 

Let us be careful not to do the same with the companions of our life.”

~Elisabeth Leseur

Among childless women, there are leaders and there are followers.  Many of the Cheroes celebrated on this blog are leaders who made a big splash, had great impact on the world, and made a name for themselves. That’s great if you’re a leader, but not all of us are called to do that. Elisabeth Leseur provides us with an example of what happens when a childless woman simply follows Christ.

In 1889, Pauline Elisabeth Arrighi married Felix Leseur after meeting him through mutual friends.  Felix was a doctor who also directed a large insurance company and it was sometime during medical school that he lost his faith.  After marrying, he permitted Elisabeth to practice her religion, but he and his friends constantly ridiculed her for what they thought were ignorant superstitions.  Despite this tension in their marriage, they loved each other passionately and Felix provided his wife with a wonderful life, which included travel to countries like Italy, Russia, Turkey and Greece. In her own words, Elisabeth provides a glimpse into the relationship: “Some joyful days, because of a present from Felix, and more because of the words that accompanied it – words so full of love that I am moved to great happiness.”

From the time they married until her death from breast cancer in 1914, Elisabeth prayed for her husband’s return to the Christian faith.  She kept a diary to give voice to her experience, but Felix did not learn of it until after she died.  A year later, he not only regained his faith, but also published the diary.  (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, published by Sopia Institute Press, is still available!)

In his remarks that preface the diary, Felix says: “My beloved wife, Elisabeth, prayed incessantly for my return to the Faith…But she did this secretly, for she never argued with me and never spoke to me of the supernatural side of her life, save by her example.”

A few years later, in 1923, Felix was ordained a Dominican priest, and over the next two decades devoted his ministry to giving talks about Elisabeth’s spirituality.  Father Leseur died in 1950 and the Church opened a cause for his wife’s canonization in 1990.

What I admire about this Chero is that she did not leave a difficult marriage to pursue holiness elsewhere, nor did she worry about leading causes to justify her existence as a childfree woman. So if you’re feeling a lot of societal pressure to go out and do something to fill the void left by infertility, think of Elisabeth…and pray.

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She is praying for her own husband’s return to the faith and found domestic bliss by acting on the advice of good marriage counselors.  

 

Irish Chero: Adi Roche March 16, 2012

Photo courtesy: Business and Finance

By Jane G.

Adi Roche was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, in 1957.  She is a campaigner for peace, humanitarian aid and education.  She was working as a volunteer with the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1991, when she received a fax message from Belarus, a country ravaged by the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.  This message, which was to change the course of her life, simply stated “SOS, for God’s sake, help us get the children out!”.  So began her life’s work, to establish Chernobyl Children’s Project International, which since its establishment in Ireland in 1991 has delivered over €80 million in aid to the areas most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and has brought over 13,000 children to Ireland on rest and recuperation vacations, some for life saving surgery. The organization expanded into the USA in 2001.

For her work with CCPI, Adi has been honored by various awards: the Medal of Francysk Skaryna (by the Belarusian Government), the European Woman Laureate Award, Irish Person of the Year, the European Person of the Year award, The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the World of Children’s 2010 Health Award.  She lives in Cork, with her husband of several years, Sean Dunne.  They have no children of their own.

In an interview in Hot Press magazine in 1997, she stated that she had suffered a number of miscarriages in the early years of her marriage.  Because she subsequently chose to pursue a career of humanitarian work involving exposure to areas of high level radioactive contamination, and because of the sheer time commitment her work takes up, she and her husbanded decided to remain childfree.  In another interview she is quoted as saying ” the day we cannot shed a tear for another human being or feel an emotion about the suffering or the agony of another human being, no matter what part of the world they are in, is the day I think we switch the light off on the planet, because we have lost who we are as a species and we have lost our sense of responsibility of being part of the human family”.   A mother not in the conventional sense, but a mother to thousands of children none the less, Adi is the person whom I proudly nominate as an Irish chero.

Jane G is 42 year old Irish woman, who is married and childless not by choice.  She lives in County Tipperary with her husband and three cats, and works in the field of finance.  She and her husband recently became involved as a host family with the Chernobyl Lifeline Ireland project, an organization which arranges rest and recuperation visits to Ireland for children from disadvantaged areas of Belarus.  Read about their life changing experience with their two adorable seven-year-old Belarussian guests here.

 

Chero: Gloria Steinem March 9, 2012

Photo curtesy Gloria Steinem

Last year I was fortunate enough to see Gloria Steinem speak at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Steinem is the founder and former editor of Ms. Magazine and a tireless advocate for women’s rights. She is also childfree (although at 66, she married for the first time and became a stepmother to then 26-year-old actor, Christian Bale.) 40 years later, Steinem is still as vivacious as ever, and her work is still relevant.

It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century women around the world are still fighting for basic human rights, and that women in supposedly developed countries, such as the U.S., are still fighting for their reproductive rights. But here we are.

The governor of Virginia thinks we can’t be trusted to make a decision about motherhood, the Pope calls infertile couples who use reproductive technology “arrogant”, and radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh apparently has a very low opinion of women who want to choose when, or if, to bring children into the world.

So, in honor of National Women’s History Month, here’s to an ageless Chero: Gloria Steinem.

 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss March 2, 2012

Courtesy: Dr Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden

I couldn’t let today go by without giving a shout-out to Dr. Seuss, who would have celebrated his 108th birthday today.

Dr. Seuss penned such children’s classics as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and The Lorax. His jaunty rhymes educated and entertained, and most of all, they encouraged children to read.

Dr. Seuss knew how to communicate with children. Maybe it was a natural talent or a thought-out method, but either way, he respected children and treated them as people.

I don’t know why Dr. Seuss and his wife didn’t have children of their own, and the reasons don’t really matter. But for anyone who says that it takes a parent to really understand children, I have two words: Dr. Seuss.

 

Chero: Juliette Gordon Low’s Fifty Million Daughters February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

If Girl Scout badges had been available in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low would have a sash full. She would have earned Drawing and Painting, Swimming, Pet Care, Theatre, Traveler, Books, and even a badge for humor. She would certainly have earned a badge for Citizenship and Caring for Children. But those badges hadn’t been invented then, because Juliette hadn’t yet founded the organization that awarded them.

Born Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon in Savannah Georgia in 1860, “Daisy,” as she was affectionately called by her family, was known for her love of the arts, her sense of humor and her athletic stunts. Her favorite trick was standing on her head, which she performed at parties, and once a year on her birthday, just to prove she still could.

Juliette had suffered chronic ear infections as a child and had lost most of her hearing in one ear. On the day of her wedding to William Mackay Low in 1886, a grain of “good luck” rice became lodged in Juliette’s good ear. It punctured her eardrum and she suffered total hearing loss in that ear. It didn’t seem to slow her down much.

Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds moved England, and Juliette continued her passion for travel, visiting Europe, Egypt and India, as well as returning to Savannah for her annual visit. Juliette and William never had children. William died in 1905 and Juliette remained in England, forging a life for herself. It was there that she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, former Lieutenant General of the British Army and founder of the Scout Movement. Inspired by B-P, as he was known, Juliette poured her energies into the fledgling youth movement.

The following year, when she returned to Savannah, Juliette made an historic phone call. “Come right over,” she told her friend, Nina Anderson Pape. “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”

On March 12, 1912, Juliette gathered 18 girls from Savannah, and the American Girl Guides was born. Juliette’s niece and namesake, Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, was the first registered member. In the spirit of self-reliance and resourcefulness encouraged by Juliette, the girls voted the following year to change the name of the organization to The Girl Scouts.

A century later, with 3.7 million members, the organization still embraces the values Juliette supported. She encouraged the girls to pursue non-traditional careers in the arts, science, and business, and to embrace environmental and community citizenship.

Juliette has been honored numerous times for her work. In 1948, President Truman authorized a stamp in her honor; a Liberty Ship, the SS Juliette Low was named for her, and in 1979 she was inducted into the national Women’s Hall of Fame. Prior to her death in 1927, she helped found the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which now boasts more than 10 million members in 145 countries.

In the U.S. alone, an estimated 50 million girls have been impacted by the work of a childfree woman with a passion for life…Juliette Gordon Low.

 

National Women’s History Month: Cheroes February 10, 2012

Next month is National Women’s History Month and last year we celebrated by featuring profiles of some inspiring Cheroes (childfree heroes.) Marilyn Monroe, Mary Cassatt and Billie Jean King were among some of the famous favorites, but we also had profiles of lesser-known cheroes, such as Lucy Hobbs Taylor – America’s first female dentist – and Dorothy Quintana, a local community crime fighter who passed away last year at the age of 101. If you weren’t here last year, you can check out the profiles here.

Many readers commented how inspired they were by these extraordinary women who left behind (or are working to leave behind) incredible legacies, so I thought I’d run a new series this year.

But I need your help.

If you have a favorite chero, if there’s a well known woman you admire who didn’t or doesn’t have children, or a local chero who’s making a difference in your community, let me know about her. Send me a short profile (doesn’t have to be in-depth or great literature) and a short two-sentence bio about yourself (even if it’s a made up bio about your online alter-ego), and I’ll add it to the line-up for March. You can send it to me through the contact page or email it to me at: editor [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

I’m looking forward to hearing about the women who inspire you. For now, here’s a little encouragement: Lillian Wald

 

 
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