Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Bambinos September 19, 2011

If you ever happen to find yourself in Sheffield in the north of England, you might want to steer clear of Vito’s Italian restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious, the service is excellent, and Vito himself, if he happens to come out of the kitchen to talk to you, is charming and funny. But the place is a minefield for the childfree.

During my recent trip home, I went there with my mother and her gentleman friend to celebrate his birthday. Over the course of the meal the waiter (picture 50-ish, stocky Sicilian, with a thick half-Sheffield, half-Italian accent) discovered (from asking me) that I lived in California, was a writer, and was married to an American.

“So,” came the next question, “you have bambinos?”

“Um, no,” I said, quickly going back to my pasta.

“No?” he says. “Why not?”

There was an awkward pause while I weighed my options as to how to answer. I could grab this “teachable moment” and educate this man as to why is wasn’t okay to ask such a prying question; I could tell him the truth and risk embarrassing him, my mum, and her friend; or I could tell a big fat lie.

I chose a hybrid answer. “Too old,” I told him.

Now you think the penny would have dropped for him and he’d have walked away from the conversation, but no. Instead it went on, something like this:

“Too old? How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am?”

Sicilian shrug. “Thirty six?”

“Thanks for the compliment, but I’m 41.”

“41?! That’s not old. My sister-in-law, she have bambinos and she 50! You have plenty of time.”

At which point I think I nodded and smiled and mumbled something like, “We’ll see,” and wondered if I could have steered the conversation differently.

This occasion wasn’t the right place to set this man right. And he wasn’t the right target for a lesson. Here was a man who came from a time and culture where all women have bambinos, and so naturally why wouldn’t I?

Yes, his question was awkward and embarrassing, but the reality is that anything he asked me in a normal line of conversation could have been awkward. I could have just lost my job, just been abandoned by my husband for a younger woman, just lost my house and been forced to move back in with my mother. He just happened to ask the one question that was my personal trigger and I don’t think that reading him the riot act for his misstep would have been the appropriate thing to do, do you?


I Love Books September 17, 2011

Filed under: Fun Stuff — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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This has been a good year for books for me. I set a goal in January of reading 30 books this year and so far I’m on number 29! What’s more, a lot of the books I’ve read this year (unlike last year’s sorry line up) have been outstanding. So, as it’s Saturday (the day we talk about anything but it) I thought I’d share some of my favorites and why I loved them. [Please note that I’m not a paid book reviewer, just love to share.]

Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

A coming-of-age story set in the South. Beautifully written and three great childfree characters!

Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

A cleverly written novel-stories about the inhabitants of a small town. Olive Kitteridge has a walk-on role in every story and it’s fun to see how she will tie in to each person. Over the course of the stories the author paints a detailed picture of the complexity of Olive’s life.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand –  Helen Simonson

This is a charming and humorous love story about two people “of a certain age.” It also examines themes of age, race, class, and yes, even touches on the issue of being childfree-not-by-choice. I loved it.

ChocolatJoanne Harris

Forget the movie (although it’s a great movie.) This book is magical. The characters, setting, and stories are gorgeously painted, and the chocolate scenes are enough to make your mouth water.

Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay

This is a poignant story about an American journalist in Paris who uncovers details of the Jewish “round-up” in World War II France and follows the story of Sarah, a young girl who escapes from one of the concentration camps. It’s a tough subject, but the author deals with it with an appropriate amount of drama and detail.

State of Wonder Ann Patchett

I’ll admit, I’m on a bit of an Ann Patchett kick at the moment. I discovered her through The Magician’s Assistant, which almost made this list. State of Wonder is the story of a researcher sent into the Amazon to find out what happened to her colleague and to track down a doctor conducting research with a tribe whose women are able to conceive well into their later years. Don’t be put off by the subject matter; it makes for thought-provoking stuff.

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett

The Ann Patchett kick continues. I won’t say much about this book as it’s our Book Club pick for next month. Suffice to say it’s about the relationships that develop between a group of people (including a renowned opera diva) at a party in South America and the political guerrillas who take them hostage.

If you’ve read something fabulous this year, please share it here, as I’m always looking for something new. Also, if you’re a book lover, we have an online Book Club going on. It’s all very informal. We read a book a month and comment on it the following month. We’re reading Laura Lippmnn’s I’d Know You Anywhere this month, so hop in if you want to play along.

I look forward to hearing your reading suggestions.


Asking for help September 16, 2011

I’ve been writing a weekly blog for Psychology Today called The Plan B Life. While it’s aimed at a general audience of people starting again with a new career, new relationship, or a new health situation, whenever I write it, I can’t help but relate it to my own Plan B Life, i.e. my unplanned Life Without Baby.

This week I wrote about the power of networking and the importance of asking for help from your community of friends and associates. I think that asking for help is something many of us are afraid to do, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to find how willing most people are to help, if only we ask.

It took a long time for me to learn this and I certainly didn’t ask for help when I really needed it, in the thick of my fertility adventure. In fact, I didn’t fully understand the value of community until I started this website, but boy, do I appreciate it now.

I know that many of you out there are struggling with coming to terms with your own Plan B Life, and I really encourage you to ask for help from this wonderful community we have here. We have almost 500 members over on the private site, so you can throw out questions and issues on the Forums there. You can also drop me a line any time through the Suggest Topics form. I’m certainly not an expert beyond my own experience, but I do have the power to put your needs out to an audience for their expert help. People are problem solvers by nature and sometimes all you have to do is ask.


Last night I had the strangest dream… September 15, 2011

Last night I dreamed I went to a fertility doctor for “once last try.” I’m not really sure what kind of procedure I opted for, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. The doctor was convinced otherwise. Based on listening to my abdomen in the middle of the medical building lobby, he told me–and a woman I knew, who happened to be walking by–that I was pregnant. I knew I was not, and a nurse did tests shortly after to confirm it. Another friend, who has recently become a first-time mother, asked if I was going to try again next month. I told her I was not, because “just one more try” never stops.

And then I woke up feeling horrible.

It wasn’t the content of the dream that bothered me, because I know it was just my sub-conscious cleaning out the junk, but the emotions that I felt during the dream and after I woke up, were all too familiar: hope, with that underlying dull feeling of, not exactly of despair, but despondency. That inner knowledge that things just aren’t going to work out in my favor.

Most of the time I don’t dwell on my experience of dealing with infertility, but all that experience and the related emotions are permanently lodged in my subconscious, and every now and then it seems they’re going to bubble to the surface. Lucky me.


Whiny Wednesday: Will the celebrity bump parade ever end? September 14, 2011

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past month browsing magazine racks in airports and train stations, and I have to ask: Will the media’s obsession with pregnant celebrities ever end?

From six rows back on my last flight I saw the news of Beyoncé’s pregnancy plastered over two pages of a fellow passenger’s magazine, and I think, “If every other celebrity is showing off her pregnant belly in a teeny weeny bikini, is this really news?”

Enough already, I say.

It’s Whiny Wednesday and I’ve missed it grumbling this past month. If you have pent up whines, let them out. Today’s the day!


It Got Me Thinking…About Nostalgia September 13, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

It began with a brief mention in a book: The character stopped to wind her watch before going to bed. Winding a watch. I’ve become so accustomed to my battery-operated Iron Man triathlon digital watch, with all the timers and trackers and buttons that do I-don’t-know-what. I’d forgotten what it was like to have to wind a watch at the end of each day to simply be able to tell the time.

And then, I got into a conversation on Facebook about what’s good about e-mail. I contributed how it helps me stay in touch with friends who have moved out of the country, into different time zones, and recalled the days of typing letters on “onion skin.” Do you remember onion skin paper? I know if I tried to explain it to my nieces, they would look at me like I was crazy. “You peeled the skin off an onion and wrote letters on it?!” I can understand why they would think that was weird.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I sat next to my great-grandmother and listened to her stories about traveling from Montana to Colorado in a covered wagon. In my limited experience, only Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie did that, and that was on TV, so it couldn’t be real, right? But my great-grandmother was a pretty serious lady, so I swallowed my skepticism. In time, I learned to listen and I began to wonder how much the world would change by the time I got old.

I don’t consider myself “old” at 45, but I am older, and I continue to be in awe at how much the world has changed in my lifetime. I love how my place has shifted in the circle of life, how I am now the teller of strange tales. “When I was your age…,” I begin, and my nieces give me that look. It may be weird to them now, but I hope some day they look back and think the role I played in their lives, bridging the gap between my past and their present, was also wonderful.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s old enough to remember when the whole extended family could pile into one car, seatbelts not required.


Just when you thought it was safe… September 12, 2011

…I’m back! Refreshed, revived, and raring to go!

My vacation flew by and I didn’t do half the things I’d planned, and yet it feels as if I’ve been gone for months. How’ve you been? How was your summer (or winter, if you’re a southern hemisphere reader)?

My trip was wonderful. As always, it was so good to be home (home, meaning my birthplace), back to everything that’s familiar and back with my family. It was good to see everyone and spend time doing the things I love­–hiking, biking, running, (eating), and catching up with old friends.

There’s a familiar pattern to my trips home. For the first week, everything is a novelty and it’s fun to observe my people and the places I know well, but with a foreigner’s eye.

By week two, I’m thinking of moving back. I’m looking longingly at the countryside and envisioning how I could spend my days hiking and running. I’ve bought some gardening magazines and I’m fantasizing about the incredible garden I would have. I’m thinking about what it would take to be able to support myself there.

By week three, I’m ready to go home. I’m thinking about work and I’m missing my routine and my cat. And inevitably, I have an encounter with friends or family that makes me realize that I am now an alien in my native land. I’ve changed; I don’t fit in any more, and, even though I’ll always refer to Britain as “home” I know that California is my real home now.

So I pack my suitcase, throw in some chocolate and tea, kiss my mum goodbye and leave home to head home.

And here I am.

Of course, I’ve been gathering material on my travels, so I’ll have plenty to write about for a while. I’ve also been giving some thought to the future of this blog, so look out for what I hope will be some exciting changes in the coming months.

To kick things off, Kathleen’s It Got Me Thinking… column will be moving to Tuesdays and I’ll be inviting some other guest bloggers to share some of their thoughts. If you’re interested in writing for Life Without Baby, drop me a line, or stay tuned for more information coming soon.

It’s good to be back and I’ll hope you’ll tune in. I’ve missed your company.