Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

The Blame Game November 12, 2012

Last week, a woman I’ve known for almost ten years finally decided it was safe to ask me a question about infertility.

“I wondered…” she began. “My grandmother always used to say that when there are cats in the house, women don’t have babies. I didn’t believe it and thought it was just an old wives’ tale, but recently I’ve noticed that many of the women I know who don’t have children have cats. Do you know anything about this?”

I told her I hadn’t heard of this, that it was most likely just superstition, but that I’d look into it and let her know.

But even as the logical part of my brain was writing the idea off as a misguided belief, and even as I was surfing the internet looking for any shred of scientific evidence to support it, I found myself looking sideways at Felicity, my poor unsuspecting cat, and wondering if she could be the cause of my otherwise unexplained infertility.

It’s been a while since I’ve caught myself playing the Blame Game—taking some irrational idea and trying to twist it into an explanation of why I can’t have children. I did it a lot in the early days, racking my brains for something in my past that I could pin my infertility on. Everything from Chernobyl fallout and birth control to too much computer time and too much wine was put under the microscope as a possible culprit. I refused to believe that it could have been “just one of those things.”

The scientist in me won’t allow fate, God’s will, or bad luck to factor into my infertility. There is a biological reason that my body’s reproductive system got old before the rest of me, and why my ovaries don’t function like they’re supposed to. But like so many other things in life, pinning blame on something or someone doesn’t change the outcome. So, I’m choosing not to expend my energy on finding the culprit, but instead I’m putting my efforts into making the best of the hand I’ve been dealt.

Call me fatalistic, but playing the Blame Game feels like a waste of my valuable time—time that could be spent living my life instead.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Cell Phones November 7, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

A local yoga teacher got fired for asking a student to turn off her cell phone in class. (Read the full article here.) The class was held at Facebook offices, so the argument was made that constantly checking her phone was part of the student’s job responsibilities, but others jumped into the fray and pointed out that she wasn’t saving the world. President Obama may need to be on call 24/7, but the rest of us can tune out for 50 minutes without serious repercussions. Seriously. Or, if it is that important, step outside and take the call where it won’t disrupt others.

Everyone I know who practices yoga does it for the physical benefits and for the calming effects, and they have the right to expect both. I go to the gym to exercise, clear my head, take care of myself, and I’ve been subjected to other gym-goers’ loud one-sided conversations about inappropriate topics including toe-nail fungus, a daughter’s STD, a string of cuss words that would make Howard Stern blush (still not sure what the actual topic was for that one). I’m so over selfish people who feel they have the right to subject everyone else to their boorish behavior. My whine this week: Turn off the damn phone!

What’s yours?

 

Thinking About My Old Age October 29, 2012

The question often seems to come up of, “What’s going to become of me when I’m old? Who’s going to take care of me if I don’t have children?” It’s a question that rattles around in my brain more often than I’d like, and my answer is always the same: “I have absolutely no idea.”

Given that my husband is 15 years my senior and my family lives on a different continent, I am facing the statistically real possibility that I will be someday be alone with no blood relatives within a 6,000-mile radius of me. I’m thinking that as long as I remain physically and fiscally fit, I’ll get long well enough. I have friends and interests, not to mention a job that doesn’t tie me to any particular geographic location, so I could choose to move closer to my family if that’s what I wanted to do.

But what happens if I’m not healthy, either physically or fiscally? What happens if I need care that I can’t afford to pay for and there’s no one around who gives enough of a damn to look after me? What will become of the poor, impoverished, childless widow then?

These are the thoughts that pop into my head, and honestly, it’s depressing. If I allowed these thoughts to take hold, it could be paralyzing. I could see myself planning for this possibility, saving every penny for my future healthcare and frantically collecting friends in the hopes that, in my time of need, one of them will be a friend indeed. I could see me putting my current life on hold for the sake of avoiding a future life alone, and I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to get all Pollyanna about this. I am thinking about this future possibility. I am trying hard to keep myself healthy, I’m nurturing my friendships, and I’m trying to be smart about my finances. But I’m not looking at my friendships with an eye as to who will take care of me (that would be weird, for one thing) and I’m not living now for the possibility of my future, because it might not happen that way.

Anyone who’s ever made plans for the future and then watched them fail to come to fruition (is that anyone here?) knows that life has no guarantees. Yes, statistically I should outlive Mr. Fab and someday be alone, but in reality I might not. Yes, theoretically people with children will be taken care of in their old age, but if you’ve ever visited a retirement home, you’ll know that’s not a given either. In fact I wonder if people with children aren’t sometimes more alone because their friends assume their kids are visiting and taking care of them? As a friend, I am more likely to step in to help a friend who doesn’t have family than one who has a partner and family close by. Likewise, I hope that my friends will be there for me, when needed.

So yes, I’m aware that I may need a plan for the future, and I am thinking about what my options might be. But there’s no way of knowing what my future will be, so I don’t want to fritter away my present worrying about it.

P.S. After writing this post I came across the image above and it made me laugh. Who knows, 40 years from now I could still be sitting here blogging about how to get along without children. Hopefully by then I’ll have it all figured out. :-)

 

Prying Medical Questions October 15, 2012

I visited a family member in the hospital last week and overheard an orderly asking an elderly patient if she’d had a bowel movement that day.

“Mind your own god#@m business,” said the patient.

The orderly persisted. “The nurse needs to know.”

“Well tell her to go scr%# herself,” yelled the patient.

“I’ll tell her that.”

This scenario would be funnier if it wasn’t so sad, and I empathized with the woman not wishing to divulge such personal information. It reminded me of my own dreaded visits to the doctor/dentist/chiropractor when the doctor/nurse/medical assistant would glance at my chart and then fire off the list of questions:

Are you pregnant?

Do you have children?

Have you ever been pregnant?

Are you taking birth control?

For most women, these are routine questions, no more prying than “Do you smoke?” or “How many days do you exercise?” But for many of us, we dread this personal snooping.

These questions can poke at our most tender emotions and shower us with feelings of shame, regret, or just plain sadness.  It’s even worse if the person is actually listening (rather than just checking boxes) and pieces together a combination of responses that doesn’t add up in their normal view of the world. I’ve experienced that pause, while the information sinks in, and I’ve even been asked follow-up questions like “Are you trying?” Which leads to a long and uncomfortable explanation of why I’m not.

I used to dread these visits, but they’ve become easier over time. I’m ready for them. I know they’re going to be asked and I am now at the point where I can answer without too much emotion. I’m also always ready to deal with questions that go beyond the scope of my visit.

I usually say, “We tried and it didn’t work out, and that’s ok.” And I’m ready to answer the follow-up question about whether we considered adoption. My answer is always pretty pointed, something like, “Believe me, we considered everything.” If a line of questioning continues, I keep my responses short and, if the person still doesn’t get the hint, I say, “I’d really prefer not to talk about this right now.” Directing the conversation back to the actual reason for the visit is also a technique that’s been recommended.

So, how do you deal with those doctor appointments? At what point does medical fact-checking cross into “mind your own business” nosiness? Have you even neglected regular check-ups to avoid these questions? How do you manage this often-difficult situation?

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Our Future Together October 2, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Your Future Together: Health Information You Need to Know.”

When my husband-to-be and I went to city hall to get our marriage license, we left with a small stack of papers, including a booklet with the above title. Curious, I opened it in the car and flipped through the pages. “Living a Healthy Lifestyle” was introduced on page 1, with recommendations for regular check-ups and exercise, a balanced diet, and up-to-date immunizations. Brief sections explaining the warning signs and resources for victims of domestic violence and HIV/AIDs followed. All this got me up to page 14. The remaining 34 pages are all about—you guessed it—family planning, pregnancy, and healthcare for babies.

There are resources listed for where to get genetic counseling, two full pages on the importance of increasing folic acid intake, and tips on things such as “Have someone else change the cat litter box daily” when you’re expecting. But no where—no where!—is there any mention of infertility, IVF, adoption, or the childfree option. Wait, I need to amend that. On page 16, there’s a list of family planning services available to eligible, low-income couples. Bullet number 4 reads: “Limited infertility and cancer screening services.”

I assumed this pamphlet must be way out-of-date, but the copyright is 2010, and the legal notation on the back indicates it must be distributed to all marriage license applicants. If that’s the case, I’d like to add some new sections to the 2012 edition, sections that address questions such as:

How long should we try to conceive the old-fashioned way before seeking professional help? What is the process for adopting a child? As a gay couple, how do we protect our parental rights? Who offers counseling when our dreams of having children are crushed? Can we have a happy and healthy marriage as a family of two?

I think someone needs to let city hall know that there’s a lot more information we need to know.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She—and her husband—have chosen to be childfree.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Small Talk September 26, 2012

Yesterday I accompanied my friend as she underwent a very unpleasant test for a big, scary health issue. My friend is a lot like me: she has no children and her family is many miles away. No one should go through something like this alone, so I volunteered to be, what she good-naturedly called, her “Biopsy Buddy.”

I’m sure the medical center staff has been highly trained in putting nervous patients at ease, and the nurse who prepped my friend for her procedure did a good job of making safe small-talk. Unfortunately, she latched onto the topic of Halloween, her big plans to go to Disneyland for the evening, and the problems of trying to find a Halloween costume to fit a 7-year-old with extra-long legs. If she was looking to get a conversation started to ease the tension, she picked the wrong, darn subject.

I don’t blame her for going with what she assumed to be a safe bet. I just wish the topic of children wasn’t always the go-to conversation starter.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What do you wish was different today?

 

The Antidote to Shame: Empathy September 24, 2012

I recently watched this TED talk by Brené Brown, who is a “vulnerability researcher.” She speaks on the topic of shame, something we’ve talked about many times here.

The talk is about 20 minutes long and worth watching. The part that struck me most comes right at the end, when she has this to say:

“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: Secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

This idea resonated with me so deeply and it felt like the crux of what this community is all about. So many of us feel shame because we can’t or didn’t or won’t have children. We stay quiet about it, working through our complex emotions alone and in silence, and feeling judged by a culture that prizes family and reveres motherhood. And our shame grows.

But find an empathetic ear­—someone who’s walked a mile in your shoes, who’s run the same emotional gauntlet, and who really understands what you’re going through—and that shame starts to wither. As Brown says in her talk:  “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are ‘Me too.’”

How many of you are living with feelings of shame? I encourage you to reach out to this community. Talking about your experience with others can help break your silence and secrecy, and I can promise that you’ll find empathy here.

 

 
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