Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Finding Childless Allies August 31, 2010

On a recent trip home to England, I reconnected with an old school friend I haven’t seen in 25 years. It was so much fun to reminisce. I remembered her cat, Othello, long gone, and the trip we took on a canal barge; she remembered that I made her run with me on Sunday mornings and that my bedroom was always a mess. It was also fun to catch up on our lives since then and to see what’s changed and what we have in common. For instance: she’s been married to her high school sweetheart for 19 years, has worked in the same job for 21, and lives about four houses away from where she grew up. I’m on my second (and final) husband, have had more careers than hot suppers, and live 6,000 away from where I grew up. But we have lots of things in common, too: we both love to travel, we’re both close to our mothers, and neither of us has children.

The latter topic did not come up in conversation.

Our mothers know one another and so I’ve heard that, “she’s had some problems” and I’m sure she’s heard some variation of that about me.  And yet, we didn’t talk about it. Here is a woman who actually gets what it’s like to not have children, a woman with whom I once shared all my secrets, and yet neither of us brought it up.

Maybe it was our heightened sensitivity to the subject that stopped us from asking personal questions, or maybe our newly rediscovered friendship was just not ready to risk stepping into potentially dangerous territory.

Have you had this experience of finding an ally and then being unable to talk about your shared issues?

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8 Responses to “Finding Childless Allies”

  1. Aja Gold Says:

    I think it goes back to the feelings of shame and imperfection that many of us have felt about our infertility/childlessness that we don’t automatically bring it up in conversation. I know I’ve made a mental note of my co-workers that don’t have children and often wonder what their reasons were. But I don’t ask. If only it wasn’t so taboo, maybe I would know that I wasn’t alone.

  2. Oh – that is so interesting. I wonder if it isn’t partially out of respect – we know how hard it to be asked about it – even by someone who understands. Possibly even harder because you are caught off guard that someone has actually been in your situation? It really makes you both feel so vulnerable.

    Then there’s also the experiences were you think you’ll bond over this one very large thing in common and you may have two totally different takes on it. One could still be very bitter and the other moved on. One prefers to talk about it and the other prefers to keep it private. That can be immediately polarizing & you’ve already had such a great time with this person and you’d love to keep that even more than finding out your infertile bosom buddies, too. It’s so nice to on occasion feel just like a normal pair of friends talking about normal things – and that it doesn’t always have to come back to children.

    There’s a lovely older couple my husband knows and they don’t have children. I so want to ask her about it but I just don’t dare because I know how painful that question can be. I also think it takes time to build up to it and maybe on another trip home you two will discuss other portion’s of your life’s journeys….

  3. happynenes Says:

    Absolutely. I know what a loaded subject infertility is for me, and how easy it would be to say the wrong thing to someone. In cyberspace it is so easy to speak one’s mind. But face to face, it’s so much more stressful. It seems like even among other child-free folks, different people get set off by different things.

    Well, nice that you got to have a long chat with your friend about things other than baby, right? 🙂

  4. Kathleen Guthrie Says:

    Maybe it’s simply that we have so many other interesting topics to discuss.

  5. lmanterfield Says:

    Great thoughts, ladies. Quite frankly, I think some of it is also just curiosity, wondering what her story is. How ironic is that that I would feel the need to pry into her personal life. Makes me no better than any of those people who ask prying questions, other than I chose to keep my mouth shut!

    At the end of the day it actually makes no difference. Being childless is something we have in common, but it’s not the basis for our friendship, so who cares?

  6. Emilyjane Says:

    I got back in touch with a schoolfriend I hadn’t seen for 20 years and I have to admit that my decision to do so was mostly based on the fact that she is the only person I ‘found again’ via facebook, Friends reunited etc that doesn’t have children, and for the most part it’s working out well.

    Like me she is in a long term relationship and has chosen not to have children – I found this out and in the year we have been friends again this is all I know.

    I am about to hit 40 and have been wavering over my choice for a while now purely out of a desire to be ‘normal’ I really wanted to discuss it with her but when I tried she just looked at me as if there was really nothing to discuss. The only thing she would say is, you have to make the right decision for you, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.

    I know she’s right but I’m at a point now where I very rarely leave the house because I can’t stand the sensation of being the only woman on the street/ in the supermarket who doesn’t have a baby with her..arrrgh!

    Maybe post 2 is right here, maybe we’re just in different places on this – I’m going to try and let it go and not bring it up the next time I see her!

    • lmanterfield Says:

      That’s an interesting response from your friend. Clearly she doesn’t want to talk about it, for whatever reason. Something I’m learning very quickly is that we all come to this place from different directions and we all have different hot buttons .Some of us want to talk and some of us don’t; some of made a very clear decision and some of us have come to our decision by simply eliminating all the other options. As much as I want to talk about being childless, I know I can’t force the conversation onto someone who doesn’t want to have it. Smart move to not force it with this friend, I think.

  7. mina Says:

    I talked to a friend recently who experienced something similar to me: Woman in her middle 30ies, explicitly taking steps towards having a child, and the boyfriend suddenly changing his mind and the relationship breaks up.
    I don’t see this friend very often, she’s not that close but we took a long walk together and of course started talking about this issue we share. In her case, the break-up is already more than a year ago.
    It turned out she is taking a very definite position. Along the lines of “it’s no use grieving, we have to take life as it comes, it’s no use questioning myself why it happened, i will just make the best out of my life as it is now” and so on.
    I felt really bad at first for not being able to adress the issue in this way. I am sad and confused and still wishing things would have taken a different turn. She was taking the role of counsellour towards me always trying to offer advice and support to me. But then after a while it seemed to me that her opinion came through tightly clenched teeth and she actually had tears in her eyes more often during that conversation than i had. Well it gave me some support in knowing that this happens to other women and that there are different outlooks on the issue. but i don’t really thing we were able to help each other very much in the end.


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