Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Grieving Our Treasures March 13, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My wedding dress and veil hung off the back of my closet door for four months until I finally got my act together and donated everything to Brides Against Breast Cancer. It felt like the right thing to do. After all, I hadn’t loved the dress in a weepy way that so many brides do about their gowns; it was flattering, it got the job done, but I didn’t feel a strong sentimental attachment to it. I knew I’d never wear it again, although my husband suggested I save it to wear to the opera, and I had to remind him that we’d both slept through the only opera we’d ever attended together. Plus, the fabric couldn’t be dyed, so it was never going to look like anything but a wedding dress. I also had no illusions about saving it for someone else to wear on her big day, knowing each of my nieces will find her perfect style and silhouette when her time comes.

So I was unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me when I decided to look at it one last time before tucking it into the shipping box. I stood in front of my full-length mirror and admired the gently gathered folds of satin that accentuated my waist, the slightly dipped sweetheart neckline that flattered my bust, the long bands that my sister and best friend spent half an hour braiding in and out, adjusting just so, to create a romantic corset down my back. I tucked the comb into my hair and floated the cathedral-length veil around me. The moment was my own, just me and my ensemble, and that’s when it hit me.

There will be no daughter or granddaughter to share this with in years to come. No one will ask to take my gown out of storage, to reminisce, to ooh and ahh. No one will care to find out if it still fits me in 10 or 20 years, and no one will join me a generation from now as we double over laughing that this was considered “in style” back in my day, like I did when I revisited friends’ gowns from the ’70s and ’80s. No one will slip tiny feet into my wedding shoes, disappear under yards of tulle, and giggle as she imagines how one day she might walk down the aisle to marry the love of her life.

It’s not so much the gown that causes me grief, but the cold, hard loss of the future memories I’ll never have. It’s not the giving away of a treasured thing that hurts, but the giving up of so many other dreams.

Shannon is now writing an insightful column for us about facing the grieving process that comes with being childfree. She’s a brilliant and compassionate woman, and I encourage you to check out what she has to say. In a recent column, “How Does Grief Feel to You?”, she invited us to share what our grief looks like. I had to sit with that for a while, to let it sink in, but now I can answer: My grief is a small girl draped in layers of ivory satin and tulle.

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


21 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Grieving Our Treasures”

  1. Amel Says:


  2. Kathryn Says:

    Yes. It isn’t my wedding dress that evokes these feelings for me, but i so understand exactly what you are saying. And you say it so very well.

    I remember many things/objects from my childhood that had memories (things from my grandparents mostly) and could have good memories again, but there is no one there with whom to create those good memories. I have a number of books i love that i would like to share, but again, no one with whom to do so.

    Christmas is the hardest time for me. My own family was not very happy but i remember as a child pulling the same ornaments out of the box each year and loving them as we put them on the tree, and also loving the Nativity Scene. As an adult, i do the same. I love the ornaments we have. There should be a small one with us, getting excited and loving the ornaments and Nativity and sharing stories. I struggle each year with the whole holiday thing. How can the two of us make Christmas special without little ones? We are Christians, so of course the season holds a special meaning, but our culture has built Christmas into something so family- and children-oriented that i don’t know how to create the holiday for us. It turns into a mourning and “if only” that i don’t want. There is not going to be another generation loving the excitement of Christmas and loving the ornaments because of wonderful memories.

    • Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

      Books. That’s a whole other can of worms. No one to read Harry Potter to/with. Sigh…

      • Mali Says:

        Yes, books are hard! My mother almost gave away our childhood books to a cousin. I objected. I’m not sure why – I think because I want a child to love them as much as I did. And I want to be there to see it. So now I have my favourites here – but no-one to share them with. When my niece visits and gets a bit older, I will.

  3. mina Says:

    I don’t mean to be harsh (but maybe I am anyway). I hope it is whiny wednesday until you read my post :-). I just wish the childless community wouldn’t rub it in all the time that I’m single. Not only wil I probably not have a granddaughter to wear my wedding dress, but no wedding dress at all for me. At least that’s how it feels right now. I would have enjoyed your post more if there had been another example for your message instead of a wedding dress.

  4. Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

    Oh, Mina, I hear you. I didn’t meet my husband-to-be till I was 40, so I was pretty sure I’d be single forever, too, and that certainly had an impact on my being childfree. You’ll find other posts on this site that speak to other kinds of grief, lost treasures, etc., perhaps one that more directly resonates with you. I can only speak from my experiences, and I share in the hope that it opens the doors for communication, that we might find some common ground and compassion. To that end, you won’t need to look far to find women in our LWB community in every kind of relationship status. I wish you well on your journey, wherever it might lead, and I hope you find your peace.

    • mina Says:

      ok i have 3 months to go till I’m 40 and most of my friends, family and even my psychotherapist tell me that i should just “open up and find a new guy” and the children will follow. After a 10 year committed relationship broke over the baby issue (after failed fertility treatement, not just about the theory of it).
      Ok I know i am being very bitter and harsh here. Its just that the “childless community” has developed a way of being very, very careful in treating each other when it comes to children but there’s not that much sensivity when it comes to the being single issue. I can share and whine endlessly with other women here about the minefields we have to cross in our daily lives when it’s all about the kids. While at the same time all the “me-and-hubby-are-a-family-of-three” , “we enjoy our childfree life together” etc. posts represent just the same kind of minefield for someone like me.
      I wanted to speak up about this, I am real sorry if i haven’t found a way to phrase it in a friendly way. I understand you mean well and are being kind to me.
      If anything, maybe this exchange goes to show that sometimes what other people tell us about their kids and it really hurts us, was never meant that way.

      • mina Says:

        …family of two, i meant, of course…

      • lmanterfield Says:

        Mina, you make a really excellent point here. Thank you for pointing it out. I know that I write from my own point-of-view, as that’s all I have to go on, but I do realize that your situation is quite different to mine. Would you consider writing a post about this as I know you are not the only person reading who is dealing with this alone.


  5. Such difficult thoughts to be working through. I think it’s wonderful that you’re sharing them and helping people not to feel alone in similar feelings.

    Also, I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found such a beautiful, meaningful use for your wedding dress.

  6. illanare Says:

    Like Mina, I’ve never had a wedding dress not to pass along; I guess that my “wedding dress” are my books. In particular my full set of Beatrix Potter which my mother bought for me, one book a month as she could afford them. I grieve that I will never have a child or grandchild to pass them on to.
    Sometimes infertility really is the gift that just keeps on giving, isn’t it…?

  7. loribeth Says:

    Kathleen, this was beautiful. Thank you.

  8. SA Says:

    Nice story.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. 1nonmom Says:

    I’m so right there with ya! Yes, the wedding gown, but even more than that the family heirlooms… like my great-grandmother’s rosary, which I just found; like my artwork, into which I poured my heart and soul;like the family photos, or my childhood dolls. Who will want these things or even care that they exist? The cold, hard truth? No one. It’s a jagged pill to swallow, but it’s honest. My sister’s only child has estranged himself from the family. My husband’s family has their own family “stuff.” The only solice is that when I’m dead I won’t know that no one is caring for these things and that no one remembers.

  10. hohan Says:

    I understand, I have a beutiful wedding dress and I know I should donate it, but just not ready yet…

  11. Lois Says:

    Another big thing for me is scrap-booking. My family buys me scrap-booking supplies as a gift. But I’m so not motivated. I have stacks of stuff to make the scrapbooks. Just need to print out the pictures.
    But who will it be shared with? Who cares after I’m gone about all these pictures? I know I might enjoy them in my old age but right now I’m not very excited about creating a legacy for nobody. And hard to tell my DH that when he has bought me all kinds of equipment and supplies to support me.

    • Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

      Oh, Lois, this one is so loaded. I too have piles of scrapbooks and photo albums in the basement. I’ve sent some to my sister, and others to old friends, but it seems so pointless to keep putting these together when they’ll go nowhere. How sweet of your husband to want to support your hobby/interest, and how sad that is, too.

  12. Shannon Says:

    These images are so powerful Kathleen. I see this little girl and your dress and you in front of me so vividly. What an important image to bring forth and acknowledge. I might even suggest you take that image and create it in some way, meaning cut from magazines or use textures and put the feeling of this image, this pain, onto something tangible. I will discuss this process soon in my column. By doing this, making this grief symbolic and tangible and even, dare I say, a fun art project, we dive a little tiny bit deeper into the symbolic idea. And then… we can discourse with this item and integrate it into our souls… which is the endgame.
    Mostly I adore you. You were and always will be to me BOTH a grown woman in a beautiful wedding dress taking vows and a little girl wrapped in fabric dreaming of a wedding.

    • Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

      Dang, Shannon, you made me cry. Thank you for this. Not sure I’m ready to make this image more concrete, but I’m getting there. Thanks for taking me yet another step further into the process.

  13. Rerah Says:

    I feel your heartache–I, too, once had dreams of passing down my things to children and grandchildren–family heirlooms have always had a magical quality for me. But, just go to any antique store and you find rooms full of someone’s unwanted possessions–either because of a difference of taste or lack of space.

    Having offspring does not mean they will appreciate what you have or love. My sister is one of those people who is not interested in “stuff’. when she inherited a beautiful set of antique children’s books–she kept them in a box in her attic (even though she had three children) and never looked twice at them. Eight years ago, I rescued them, and they are on proud display on my bookshelf in my living room. My sister has yet to notice!

    I have begun to rethink the issue, though. Two weeks ago, devastating tornados hit my area. Luckily, the town where I live was spared, but elsewhere some people lost everything they had, including their lives. Suddenly, my concerns about ” who will appreciate what I have” turned into “how can I help others”–which is a gift that keeps on giving.

  14. Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

    Can I just say how much I LOVE this community of ours for coming together and sharing and support our different perspectives. What an extraordinary conversation.

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