Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Souvenirs October 5, 2012

Whenever Mr. Fab and I travel, we usually bring back a piece of local art. Among my favorites are a pair of oil paintings of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas that we bought from a street artist on Copacabana beach, a set of wooden masks from a Johannesburg market, and a rather buxom middle-aged angel mobile that I found and fell in love with in a cliff-top ceramics studio on Orcas Island in Washington. These pieces remind me of my travels and trigger memories – some good and some not so good – of journeys and adventures.

A few years ago we went through a period of hunting down sculptures and ended up with a number of statues, in bronze, wood, and stone, of pregnant women. Over time, these have found a home on shelves around our house and, like many of our belongings, have blended in and become part of the furniture. It’s only recently that I’ve become aware of just how many we’ve collected.

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to collect these sculptures, but at a subconscious level I suppose I was drawn to them because they represented my hopes and dreams, or more accurately, my expectations. Now, they represent a part of me I’ll never get to know.

And yet, these pieces don’t make me sad and I’ve never considered parting with them. Like the other treasures I cherish, they are souvenirs of my travels, not just mementos of geographical locations, but a map of the journey I’ve taken through life. Even though the road was sometimes rough, I still want to remember the places I’ve been.

 

Baby Envy? Not Me September 7, 2012

An acquaintance is expecting her first baby any day and she has had enough of being pregnant. “I’m ready to get this baby out of me,” she said.

The old me would have pursed my lips and tried to resist telling her she ought to be lucky she’s pregnant and that I’d give anything to change to places with her for just one day. In fact I would gladly change places with her if I could. I’d gladly put up with the swollen ankles, the lack of sleep, the total and utter discomfort of lugging and extra 20, 30, 40 pounds around in 90-degree weather. I’d love to know what it feels like to be in her shoes.

But that’s the old me. The new me doesn’t want or need to give her a lecture.

A little over a year ago we sat at dinner, both peering over the crest of 40 and looking at a life without children. I know what she’s been through to get to this point and I know she isn’t really complaining about her good fortune. I also know that, now, I wouldn’t change places with her for anything in the world.

We’re both heading into a new chapter in our lives. Hers is going to involve a lot of sleepless nights, probably at least two decades worth. And mine? I’m not sure yet. Maybe I’ll get serious about finally finishing that novel I’ve been noodling with for years. Or maybe it’s time to move away from the city and the good school districts, and find a little place in the country.

All I know for sure is that my life is open to possibility now, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

Meeting Other Childfree People August 27, 2012

Life Without Baby is taking a short hiatus. Please enjoy some favorite posts from the last two-and-a-half years. We’ll be back to normal next week.

This post was originally published on April 19, 2011

Recently, a reader posted this comment:

“Do you have any tips on how to find people without kids? I went to a RESOLVE meeting once and made friends with a fellow infertile… who got pregnant the next month.”

I suspect we’ve all had that feeling of being cheated on by someone we hoped would be an ally, while at the same time being glad the person got what she really wanted. So how do you find other childless people to spend time with?

Here are a few of the ways I’ve found kindred spirits:

Activities at non-kid-friendly times

I go to an early morning exercise boot camp three days a week. It starts at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. which is a tough time for anyone, but especially for people with very young or school-age kids. Most of the people in the group don’t have children and I’ve been going for long enough that I’ve made a small circle of childless friends. What’s great is that our primary connection is exercise, not childlessness.

Stealing or borrowing other friends’ childless friends

Quite a few of my friendships have come about through mutual friends. I’ve been invited to a dinner or barbecue, made my way around the room, making polite conversation, until I’ve met someone I’ve clicked with and discovered they don’t have children either. I have several childless friends who were introduced to me by mutual friends with children. In some cases the original friend has drifted away and the new friend and I have grown closer.

Groups and clubs

Just getting out and meeting people in general is a really good way to ultimately meet other childless people. Joining a group or club relating to your interests or hobbies means you automatically have something in common. I’ve been in book clubs, running clubs, and various classes. Over time, I’ve attached to certain members of the group, and just because of schedules alone, the childless members have ultimately gravitated to one another.

Childless and child-free groups

I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I’ve considered it. No Kidding! is an international social network for people without children. They have chapters all over the country and arrange social events regularly. If there’s one near you, this seems like a great way to meet people.

Another idea is using Meetup.com. You can sign up and state your interest in meeting other childfree people in your area.

We also have a Groups page on this site. Try starting a group for your local area and see if other people join. Hopefully you’ll find at least one other person who lives close enough to meet in person, and our membership is growing daily.

If anyone else has ideas on how to meet other childless singles or couples, please post them. I know that there are several other members who would love to find people they can connect with in person as well as just here online.

 

Whiny Wednesday: People Who Ought to Say Nothing August 22, 2012

This post was originally published on April 4, 2012.

Kathleen’s post about mistakes and well-intentioned people got me thinking about people who really ought to just mind their own business.

A few years ago, when I my glorious plans for motherhood were just beginning to come crashing down around my ears, Mr. Fab and I went wine tasting. As a rich, fruity cabernet was hitting my bloodstream and making my crappy world feel better, a woman (whose world was feeling a little too good) leaned over and said, “Should you be drinking?”

I was confused for a moment, until I realized she was peering at my belly. Admittedly, I’d put on a few stress pounds over the previous year, but I was beyond mortified that she’d mistaken my bloat for a pregnancy, especially considering that was the one thing I was truly aiming for.

I’d like to tell you that she realized her mistake immediately, but alas, she had to ask me twice – the second time for everyone around us to hear.

So, while I agree that most people are well-intentioned when they make a faux pas, in some cases, people just ought to keep their traps shut and mind their own damn business.

It’s Whiny Wednesday, ladies. Let ‘em fly.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About the Dark Side August 21, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

This post was originally published on July 18, 2011

“I’m pregnant!” my friend gleefully announces.

And I think, Well, f*ck me six ways to Sunday, but I instead I jump up and embrace her and say, “Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you!”

Yup, another one has gone over to the Dark Side. My playmate, my buddy, my date for tea and chick-flicks will soon switch discussion topics from the last great novel she read to the merits of cloth versus disposable diapers and the challenges of getting into the “right” preschool/private school/ballet studio. While I bravely continue to pursue political movements, investing options, and the hottest new tapas restaurant this side of the Bay, she’ll be focusing on PTA politics, college funds, and how to get her kid to eat green vegetables.

Before long, the excuses for missing lunch dates (sick baby, sick kid, soccer games) will grow tiresome. She’ll kindly include me in the first few get-togethers with her new friends from the mommies group. I’ll make polite conversation when I’m invited to baby showers and first birthday parties. But eventually I’ll get lost in the mist as she gets sucked into more and more “family” events and senses how much more she has in common with the other reproducers. “Whatever happened to your friend Kathy?” they might ask. “Oh, she never had kids.” “Oh,” they will say knowingly. Or so I imagine. This is worse than being the last kid picked for teams. This is being told you can’t even play the game, but if you want, you can watch from the bleachers.

And I’m pissed. But mostly I’m lonely. It’s really, really hard to make new friends when you’re over the age of 40, and it’s that much harder when, like me, you leave the city you’ve lived in for those first four decades and move some place where you know no one but your fiancé. You have to make a determined effort to get out, try new classes, start new groups, and hope to find a connection. It’s not unlike dating, and it can be really exciting, but mostly scary and discouraging. But you carry on, remembering the closeness you once shared with old friends who, over time, could read your thoughts and finish your sentences.

Since moving here three years ago, several of the women who I thought could become part of my new posse now are new mothers. I didn’t know they were trying; we hadn’t known each other that long, so the topic never came up. A couple had been trying for years, and became pregnant shortly after meeting me. My friend Lisa found this hilarious and suggested I offer myself out as a fertility icon: Become friends with me, and you’ll be knocked up within 3 months—guaranteed!

After the fourth announcement, I broke down and told my fiancé how crushed I was, how broken-hearted, how devastating this was to my developing social life. He laughed at me, pointing out how ridiculous I sounded for getting so overly dramatic and self-pitying. And he’s right. Because, really, I am happy for my friends. And it won’t be as isolating as I imagine, it will just be different.

When I get the “good” news, when I sink into one of my funks, I fully realize that I am the one who has gone over to the Dark Side. But for a short while, I need to lose my perspective and my sense of humor, wallow in self-pity, and mourn the loss of my friend. Because underneath my happiness for her, I still hurt for myself.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. It’s raining today, and she’s feeling blue.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality August 8, 2012

This post was originally published on November 30, 2011.

I’ve had  a bad back for a couple of weeks now, so I went to a new doctor for the first time. Here’s the conversation we had (roughly) and keep in mind I went in for a bad back:

Dr: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Are you married?

Me: (in my head) What the hell does this have to do with anything?)

Me: (out loud) Yes.

Dr: (moments later) Have you had kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Any pregnancies?

Me: No.

I considered explaining my situation, but the guy’s a chiropractor for God’s sake and he has my file right there, so I let it go. A few minutes later I’m standing with my pants around my ankles getting a back x-ray.

X-ray Tech: Are you pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: Is there any chance you could be pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: When was your last period?

Me: (gives her the date)

Short pause while she does the math.

X-ray Tech: Ok, I’m going to hang a plate in front of you to protect your ovaries.

Me: (in my mind) Don’t waste your time; they’re already fried.)

Me: (out loud) OK.

So, maybe I was a surly patient. I chalk it up to my bad back. But sometimes I don’t feel like explaining why I don’t have children, not even to my doctor.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’m cranky about doctors; what’s under your skin this week?

 

Locked Out of the Mommy Clubhouse July 5, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

Last week, I texted one of my girlfriends, trying to throw together a last minute Sunday night dinner with her and her husband. When she responded that they already had dinner plans with two of our other friends, but that we were “welcome to tag along”, I was a little taken aback. I couldn’t imagine why we hadn’t been included in the first place, until later that night when I saw some inside joke exchanges on Facebook about chromosomes. My girlfriend was newly pregnant, and I realized she’d reached out to the other pregnant woman in our group, because she wanted to spend time with someone who was going through the same experience.

It was my first glimpse of being locked out of the Mommy Clubhouse. Up until now, it had always been the other way around. My group was still very active, going out every weekend, and the first person to get pregnant in our group had been the one left at home. Now that more and more of them are starting to have babies, I’m realizing that my husband and I may be the ones left home alone while everyone else attends each other’s kids’ birthday parties, mommy yoga classes or family-friendly barbeques.

Parents seem to have this glamorized picture of the Childfree as partying every weekend night till the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping off our hangovers all day long on Sunday. Admittedly, part of the reason they have this image is because it’s the one being loudly and proudly portrayed on the Childfree blogs and forums. But that’s not really what I’m after. All I want is to be able to spend time with my friends. If that means tame dinners in, or board game nights in lieu of clubbing, I’m all for it. It just hadn’t occurred to me until last week that we might be excluded because they think we don’t want to give up the bar scene. Or worse, that we no longer fit in.

I don’t begrudge my friends the lack of an invite to their dinner. They’re sharing a life-altering experience together and some bonding is bound to take place that we can’t really participate in. And of course, it’s only natural that certain members of a group have smaller gatherings from time to time – everyone can’t be invited to everything. What scared me was not knowing if this was a one-off, or just the tip of the lonely weekend iceberg.

Maybe Lady Liz is blogging her way through the decision of whether to create her own Cheerio-encrusted ankle-biters, or remain Childfree. You can follow her through the ups and downs at http://www.MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.

 

Measuring Progress Via the OB/GYN June 4, 2012

Mud Dancer Wearing a Mask ca. 1990s Solomon Islands, Melanesia, courtesy MS Images

Reader Katy contacted me recently about the overwhelming experience of visiting her OB/GYN and being inundated by all those pregnant bellies. I’m sure many of us here can sympathize with her.

I got to thinking back about my own experience with those dreaded visits and was interested to see how they ultimately provided a measure for my progress.

When I was trying desperately to get pregnant, I remember looking at all those pregnant bellies and baby pictures posted on my doctor’s wall. I’d fantasize about making my first pre-natal appointment and glowing proudly in the waiting room. Then I’d imagine my baby’s picture up on the wall of fame.

As I continued on my journey and it became apparent that pregnancy wasn’t going to come easily for me, those annual visits became harder. My eyes would turn longingly to the bellies and the babies, but at the same time, I wanted to look away. I couldn’t bear to see what I didn’t have and didn’t know if I’d ever have. It was just too painful.

It didn’t get any easier after we made the decision to stop our quest for a family. I think that first visit after we stopped was the hardest of all, as I had to look at the mommy pictures and try to reconcile the idea that I would never join their ranks. To make matters worse, the Nurse Practitioner, a woman I’d been seeing for my annual exam for years, came in with my chart and started asking the usual slew of questions.

“You’ve never been pregnant?”

“No.”

“Are you using birth control?”

“No.”

“Are you trying to get pregnant?”

[Pause] “Not any more.”

There was another longer pause as she tried to piece all this together, so I saved her the trouble and explained our situation and that we’d decided to move on. She went on to tell me about a friend of hers who was 46 and had just had her first child via egg donation. I remember mumbling that it wasn’t for us and hurrying the conversation along to the real reason I was there.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until much later, when I was replaying the horrible scene over in my mind for about the hundredth time that I realized she wasn’t telling me the story from an “It’s a miracle and it could happen to you, too,” point-of-view. There was lot more to her friend’s story than I’d given her the chance to tell me, and she was in fact showing her support for my decision to draw a line in the sand. In hindsight, I wish I’d been in a place emotionally to have a conversation with her about her friend, as an understanding ally was exactly what I needed at that time.

At my last appointment earlier this year, I found myself studying all the birth announcement photos more carefully. I formed opinions about people’s choices of baby names, looked for families I recognized (and found one), and fabricated histories for those I didn’t know. I did this without sadness or envy or remorse.

Looking at those pictures was almost like browsing the pages of National Geographic and seeing photos of some fascinating tribe who had this strange ritual called “reproduction.” I felt that I was not of their tribe. I didn’t feel superior or inferior, not less than or more fortunate than, just different. I’m from another tribe. I will never be like them, and just as similarly, they will never be like me.

Coming to terms with being childfree takes time and some days you may feel as if you’re making no progress at all, but sometimes the thing that can be the hardest to face can turn out to be the thing by which you’re finally able to measure just how far you’ve come.

 

Whiny Wednesday April 25, 2012

Hooray, hooray, it’s Whiny Wednesday today!

This week I was in a conversation with my friend “K” and a young woman who said of their mutual friend “D”, “She’s never going to get pregnant if she keeps stressing out like this.”

K and I exchanged a knowing glance (she knows all my story) and I think she probably held her breath for a moment, waiting to see if I would actually lose it on the spot and give this woman a full on lecture about infertility.

I didn’t. It wasn’t the time and place for a teachable moment. Instead I said, “Well, that’s easier said than done. Trust me; I know.”

Still, I can’t stop thinking about D and hoping she has someone to talk to who understands the hell she’s undoubtedly in right now. I know that K understands, but it’s clear that not all D’s friends do.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’ve set a bit of a melancholy tone here, but don’t let that stop you from venting what’s on your mind today.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About What Comes Out of My Mouth April 10, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

So here I am, a couple of years into coming to terms with my childfree status, at a point where I feel confident I’ve made my peace with this whole not-going-to-be-a-mommy scenario. It’s been a while since I’ve dreamed about babies or ached when I’ve held an infant or cried when a childfree friend has crossed over into mommy-mania. I’m good. Really. Or so I think. Because then I opened my mouth and something inexplicable came out. Here’s what happened:

After months of thinking and planning, I’ve decided to take a detour in my career path, to set aside the long-term goals I’d outlined for my business and devote time and energy to finishing a passion project. As part of this shift in priorities, I needed to let my business networking group know my intentions, as a way to hold myself accountable and to ask for their support. I stood up before my colleagues and said, “I have some big news….” And then I said, “And, no, I’m not pregnant!”

What the fruitcake?! Where did this come from? This was inappropriate on soooo many levels, and it’s so not like me. Right? I mean, I always behave professionally in professional settings, plus I blog and talk openly about being childfree and I rarely ever think about getting or being pregnant.

But apparently there’s a corner of my subconscious that is holding onto the dream. There must be a tiny part of me that still believes only announcements such as “I’m engaged!” or “I’m pregnant!” count as “big news.” I’m so disappointed in myself, appalled that sad Little Me has poked her face out from behind the mask of strong, savvy, childfree Big Me. I’m horrified that there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe this huge leap I’m taking in my career is worth sharing and celebrating.

As much as I’d like to shove Little Me back behind the mask, I can’t ignore her or the uncertainties that occasionally bubble up from my subconscious. I think these surprises are part of the process, and they must be examined and addressed. Clearly, I’m still learning how to live the life I’ve been dealt. I am in a much better place than I was a few years ago, and I believe I’ll be in a better place in years hence. Till then, I need to be gentle with myself and not too judgmental when I speak before I think.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with being childfree.

 

 
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