Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Privacy July 31, 2012

This post was originally published on January 14th, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

Earlier this week I wrote about inappropriate chitchat, and my heart breaks over the comments (several came offline). Readers shared some of the horrible, though possibly well-intentioned, things people have said to them that added salt to the already devastating wounds of infertility.

“When are you going to have kids?”

“So which one of you is the reason you can’t have children?”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

We’ve all heard variations on this theme, and I don’t know if it ever gets easier to come up with an appropriate response. The bigger issue I think we haven’t yet discussed is when—if ever—to tell people, and who we should tell, versus our right to privacy.

How are you handling this? Did you break the news to a few key people, expecting them to spread the message down the line? Did you tell just close family and friends, hoping to gain their support? Did you include a paragraph in your annual holiday newsletter? Or have you kept it to yourself?

Speaking of privacy, if you’re uncomfortable openly posting your thoughts or concerns on the blog, there are members-only discussions going on in the forums. You’ll find comfort, compassion, empathy, and support here. I hope you’ll reach out. Meanwhile, consider yourself cyber-hugged.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She believes “Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.”

 

The Sliding Scale of Grief July 30, 2012

This post was first published on February 25, 2011

J and I just purchased a used trombone. In the very early stages of our relationship we discovered all sorts of odd things we had in common, one of which is that we both played the trombone as teenagers. Anyway, we’ve been talking about learning to play again, and we finally found a used instrument in good condition.

The main difference between a trombone and other brass instruments is that you make the notes by moving a slide up and down, rather hitting a key. It makes it a lot more difficult to hit just the right note. It’s also what makes the trombone so much fun to play, because you can slide easily from note to note, up and down and back again.

The reason I’m telling you all this is that today I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole coming-to-terms process. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of school grades, with the freshman class having just made the decision to live childfree or to stop fertility treatments, and having no idea how to start getting used to the idea. They eventually graduate to acceptance and begin to find a way to get happy, and ultimately go on to live a full and happy life without children.

But it’s really not that simple. You never really do hit all the notes precisely and in order. It’s much more like playing a trombone, where you slide from one state to the next and sometimes back again. One day, you’re content and determined to make the most of your situation, then something happens to trigger all those old emotions and you find yourself sliding back down. Then you get to talk someone who understands you and you feel like you can really figure this out…until your friend announces a pregnancy and back down you go again.

So, I’m wondering, where are you on the sliding scale of coming-to-terms? Where are you right now and have you been better or been worse? Do you feel that, even though you have setbacks, you’re slowly moving towards a place of peace, or can you see no way to ever come-to-terms with your lot in life? Or have you already been up and down the scale and have finally found a place of contentment? I’d like to know.

 

A Creative Sabbatical and Reruns July 27, 2012

Summer is in full swing and I am heading off for a vacation. Hurray! Mr. Fab and I will be in England next month, celebrating my mum’s 80th birthday. I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the birthday lady.

I’m also checking myself out on a month-long sabbatical. In my mind, this means unplugging from technology and work responsibilities, and taking the entire month of August to do nothing but creative writing, including working on the novel I’ve been chipping away at for years.

In reality, I’m not going to be able to completely go underground, but in the spirit of trying, I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks.

So as not to leave completely dead air, I’ll be posting reruns of some of the favorite posts from the past two years. For those of you who are new to the site, it will be a chance to snoop into the archives, and for those of you who’ve been with me for the duration, it might be a chance to reminisce and see how far we’ve all come.

So for now, it’s adieu, and I’ll look forward to being back in September, refreshed, revived, and ready for a new season.

 

Guest Post: Why Not Me? July 26, 2012

By Quasi-Momma

As I try to accept being childless not by choice, there are moments when I am overcome with small torrents of grief and anger.  It usually is precipitated by the thought of someone who is currently pregnant followed by a white hot flash.  For a brief moment, I’m rocked by different waves of emotion:  there’s longing and sadness (of course), but there’s also a very strong feeling of indignation.

It doesn’t seem to matter who I am thinking about either – it could be a person who has been nothing but horrible to me, someone who has suffered losses like I have, or someone I barely know – the intensity of the feeling, the longing, and the burning is the same.

The indignation confuses me.  The very strong sense of “why them and not me?” throws me for a loop.   Why the person who has treated me unkindly, the person who already has been blessed, or the person who manipulates and abuses her children?   I could float away for days on a sea of anger that arises from such thoughts.

I know that I have the right to feel anger about my situation, but at some point it seems like a futile exercise.  It certainly isn’t going to change my situation.  It just overtakes me for a minute, leaving me feeling a little more depleted once it passes.

In an attempt to make sense of confusing situations, I like to listen to podcasts while I work.  However, there are very few out there that deal with CNBC or pregnancy loss.  So one day, I ended up settling on a Christian podcast relating to grief from child loss.  The podcast was an interview with singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth. The couple had lost one of their adopted daughters when she was run over in their driveway.   It was very hard to listen to them lovingly describe the joy she brought to them and the pain, confusion, and guilt the family dealt with after her death.

At one point, the subject of feeling angry about their loss came up.  Did they ever wonder why this happened to them? To which they calmly replied, “Why not us?”   I was floored by this response.  In it was a level of humility, grace and acceptance that I had never witnessed before.

The question of “Why NOT me?” is an interesting one (and a bit of a difficult one) to consider when unresolved feelings rear their ugly heads.  What is it that I possess that enables me to endure this versus someone else?  How can I take this and make this something for the better?  What does this serve: not only for me, but for others?

I’ve been exploring the idea of the importance of purpose in life.  Until recently, I thought that my purpose would be fulfilled in motherhood.    Now, I know it must be something different.   I think that all this anger, burning, and pain must be used as a catalyst to keep pushing me to explore until my actual purpose is found.

What about you, ladies?  How does “Why NOT me?” impact you?

Quasi-Momma is living a childless, but not childfree, life as a stepmom.  Her blog, Quasi-Momma, is a collection of her reflections on pregnancy loss, childlessness not by choice, and not-so-blended family life sprinkled with a little gratitude and lot of heart.  

 

Whiny Wednesday: Heredity July 25, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My dermatologist informed me this week that my latest skin issue is hereditary. It pretty much came over with my foremothers from Ireland four centuries ago and landed on my face, and there isn’t a darn thing I can do about it.

It’s more of an annoyance than a scary or damaging condition, so I’m not too put out by it. And I have to say, as I was leaving the doctor’s office, I thought of one benefit: At least I won’t be responsible for passing it along to any unsuspecting children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.

It’s Whiny Wednesday, so tell us: What physical or emotional traits have you inherited that you wish your ancestors had kept to themselves?

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

 

Amelia Earhart: Flying the Child-Unfriendly Skies July 24, 2012

In honor of Amelia Earhart Day, Kathleen generously agreed to give up her regular Tuesday “It Got Me Thinking…” spot. But don’t worry, she’ll be here tomorrow, sharing a Whiny Wednesday rant.

Today is Amelia Earhart Day, so in honor of the 115th anniversary of her birth, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Cheroes.

Children and family were never in the cards for Amelia Earhart. The pioneering aviatrix, always baffled by “the rules of female conduct,” considered marriage to be a cage, something she wouldn’t consider “until I am unfit to work or fly or be active…” Sam Chapman, Amelia’s first romantic suitor, discovered this the hard way after the pair had been engaged for several years. Even when she finally accepted the sixth proposal from George Putnam, she was still unsold on the idea of marriage. Instead of settling into the respectable life as a “domestic robot,” Amelia sought to conquer the skies.

Her illustrious flying career began in 1921, when she took her first shaky flying lesson. She was a confident flier, although not always competent. According to her teacher, Neta Snook, what made Amelia stand out from other pilots was her, “gut courage that transcended the sanity of reasoning.”

Amelia wanted to prove that women were just as capable as men in the air, and she sought opportunities to display her daring and prowess whenever she could. She attended airshows and performed aerial stunts, but she also wanted to be taken seriously as an aviator. In 1928, she got her opportunity when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Although she was little more than a passenger on the flight, keeping the plane’s log and keeping her pilot and mechanic supplied with hot tomato juice and chocolate, she became an instant sensation.

Amelia understood the power of publicity. She knew the importance of keeping her name—and her face—in the news. She curled her straight hair into its signature, tousled style and once reportedly crawled (unharmed) from the wreckage of her crashed plane, powdering her nose and saying, “We have to look nice if the reporters arrive.” When she met George Putnam, a renowned publisher interested in her story­—and more—she found a ruthless promoter of the Amelia Earhart brand.

Amelia was often criticized for her stunts and for being motivated by fame. Although she took her celebrity seriously, she took her flying more seriously, and continued to rack up a long list of aviation firsts. She became the first woman to fly from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, and competed in the first Women’s Air Derby, where she finished third after stopping to help a friend who had crashed. She set new records for speed and altitude, and helped establish the first organization of women pilots, The Ninety-Niners.

Then, in 1932 she made another attempt at the Atlantic crossing, this time as a solo pilot. Despite battling an ice storm and a badly leaking fuel tank, she touched down in Northern Ireland on the morning of May 21, 1932, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her accomplishment catapulted her from famed aviator to superstar of the skies.

In these early days of aviation, flying was a dangerous endeavor. Amelia had crashed many times, although she had always walked away unhurt. Many of her peers were not so lucky. Three of the five women who had attempted the transatlantic crossing before her had disappeared, and even the world famous Harriet Quimby was unexpectedly ejected from her aircraft in Boston only months after becoming the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.

Motherhood and flying did not mix well, and many of the most intrepid aviators of the time had hung up their flying helmets when marriage and children beckoned. Neta Snook, who had first taught Amelia to fly, had been a fearless barnstormer and aviation pioneer, once telling the press that she could “fly as cleverly, as audaciously, as thrillingly as any man aviator in the world.” But when she married and became pregnant, she gave up flying, sold her business, and more or less disappeared into domestic bliss, eventually dying peacefully and without flourish at the age of 95.

Elinor Smith, who became the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16, earned herself the nickname “The Flying Flapper of Freeport” and became the first woman to appear on a Wheaties box by setting records for endurance, speed, and altitude. She had even flown under all four of New York City’s East River bridges, but eventually she hung up her flying helmet to raise four children in a quiet suburban life. Consequently, she lived to be 98.

Even Amelia’s first opportunity to fly across the Atlantic came about because of another pilot’s commitment to family. Although Amy Phipps Guest had the desire for adventure and the means to fund a transatlantic endeavor, her plan was foiled when her family got wind of it and her daughter pleaded with her to call off the attempt, crying that her mother would “end up floating in the ocean.” She scrapped her daring plans and lived to be 86 instead.

Flying was a dangerous business and, even though Amelia liked children, she knew that motherhood would force her to give up her career, and that would mean disappearing into domestic oblivion. At 39 years old, and with commercial aviation already gaining popularity, the opportunities for setting new records as an aviator were rapidly diminishing. Amelia knew she had just one last opportunity to become an aviation legend—by flying around the world.

When she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set off on June 1, 1937, she couldn’t have known quite how the trip would seal her place in aviation history. Just over a month later, as her plane headed for Howland Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Amelia lost radio contact. She and Noonan were never seen or heard from again. To this day, their disappearance remains a mystery, sparking theories of suicide, faked death, and a top-secret government spy mission. There was even speculation that Amelia and Fred had made it to some tiny uninhabited Pacific island, where they are still waiting to be rescued.

Regardless of what happened to Amelia Earhart, she carved a permanent place for herself in history and inspired countless generations of aviators. As her close friend Eleanor Roosevelt said of her, she helped women to see that there was nothing they could not do. Mrs. Roosevelt—whose own dreams of flying had been firmly quashed by Franklin—told reporters, “I’m sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

As many of you will have already heard, the world lost another great Chero yesterday. Sally Ride passed away peacefully after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. You can read Kathleen’s National Women’s History Month profile of Sally from March 2011.

 

What Kind of Mother Would I Have Been? July 23, 2012

What kind of mother would I have been?

This thought crosses my mind once in a while, for example, this weekend as I was lugging another dead plant out to the alley to dump its desiccated remains into the compost bin.

What kind of mother would I have been if I can’t even keep a plant alive?

Or on Sunday when I decided to let my indoor cat out into the garden to chase a few butterflies, and then got chatting to my neighbor and forgot about her. (She was fine, as it turns out.)

Would my kids have been the ones standing alone outside the school while I was sitting down to dinner looking around the table, thinking What’s missing here?

I realize that plants and cats don’t take quite the same level of mothering as children, but would I have been an attentive mother?

Maybe I’d have been the opposite – an overindulgent, permissive mother, whose children would create undisciplined riots everywhere they went. I mean, I spoil my cat rotten and she has absolute power over me. Would my children have pushed me around, too?

I know this is just self-pity talking, but I wonder, was I just not meant to be a mother? Do I not have the right stuff?

Too bad we’ll never get to find out.