Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Guest Post: Chero, Nicole Niquille August 17, 2012

This post was originally published on November 10, 2011.

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Elena for finding this great “Chero” (childfree hero.) If you have a favorite Chero, please send me a post about her.]

Courtesy: Hopital Luka

By Elena

A week ago, when I was having my first coffee in the morning, I spotted a “chero” story in my local newspaper here in Berne, Switzerland. It was titled The Second Life of Nicole Niquille, but maybe it’s rather about Ms. Niquille’s third, or fourth life… so I would like to share this story about someone who has re-invented herself more than once in her life.

Nicole Niquille is 55 and lives in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. She will shortly be appointed an honorary member of the Swiss Mountain Guide association, which has more than 1500 members – only 25 of which are women. Ms. Niquille is only the third woman to be awarded this honor; the association has decided that she is clearly a pioneer of professional mountaineering. And she has reached this goal despite – or maybe because of – many obstacles in her life.

Ms. Niquille was 18 when a severe motorbike accident left her badly injured and with her left foot nearly severed from her leg. The doctors managed to save the foot through several surgeries, but it never regained its full flexibility. It was only in her hard mountaineering boots that she wasn’t affected by this. So she fell in love with climbing the alpine mountains on her doorstep, because “it was a good reason to fight: my own body, and the mountain.”

She trained hard and learned everything necessary to survive in the mountains, how to climb the sheer and icy mountainsides of the Alps, and how to guide other people in this hostile environment. Going through professional mountain guide training, she had to fight for the respect of the men in that profession, and after her successful exam, she became the first female professional mountain guide in Switzerland. That made her an attraction, and many happy and successful years followed. Until one day, 17 years ago, when the second accident happened.

She wasn’t even climbing, but collecting mushrooms at the foot of a mountain near her hometown, together with her former husband and a friend. A small rock, only as big as a walnut, was loosened higher up on the slope by an animal and fractured her skull. She spent 21 months in hospital and was initially completely paralyzed and not even able to speak. In this situation, she really considered suicide “as soon as I am capable of it again.” But slowly her injuries mended and her will to live returned, though the accident left her a paraplegic.

Today she says, “At first, I was aggressive and angry. Then I made a decision for a new life and new goals.” She left her first husband, because “He only saw the patient in me, not the woman I once was.”

At 38 years old, she found her new project: A small auberge (guesthouse) near the Lac de Taney in a remote side valley of the Valais mountains (1440 meters above sea level). In her wheelchair, she managed the guesthouse until 2010, as a manager, host, and expert and counselor in mountaineering questions. It was there she found the love of her life, her second husband. She also used part of the big sum of money she received from the state invalidity insurance to build a hospital in Nepal, which treats 1000 patients a month. This humanitarian project, she says, is “like the child I never had.” When the hospital was destroyed by an earthquake in September this year, she travelled to Nepal to personally oversee its reconstruction.

The obstacles in her life, she says, lead her to advance inwardly, to go on an inner journey.

Elena lives in Berne, Switzerland. She is a social scientist, social worker and enthusiastic amateur fiddler.

 

What’s Lost…and Gained August 16, 2012

This post was first published on May 4, 2012.

By Peggy McGillicuddy

 

“To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body”

I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. For most of my adult life, I have worked directly with young children and their parents, but I am not a parent myself.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be, but life happens. Approaching 41, I’ve been officially diagnosed as infertile.

At the beginning of my career I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. Who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad?  Eventually I realized that I had the empathy and skills to do the work regardless. But I quickly came to understand this: the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to experience it. This didn’t bother me, because I always thought, “someday I will know what it’s like…”

There is a strong possibility that “someday” won’t arrive.

Coming to terms with this has been difficult. I watch parents and children together, struggling through situations that are often not ideal.  Addiction, poverty, divorce separation…problems that seem insurmountable.  But one fact stands alone in the chaos.  A connection so deep.

I watch kids introduce me to their parents, so proud.  I see sons and daughters forgive a mom or dad, simply because of their parental role.

I can only imagine what it must be like. I can’t put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don’t want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.

I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child.  I feel it in my gut on a daily basis.  She is the mother of two adult children.  Attempting to make me feel better, she said,

“Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them.  They’re always yours. Even when they’re grown.  If you never have kids, you won’t have to experience that kind of worry in your life.”

 

True. I won’t know what it’s like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won’t experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won’t need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.

I won’t be exposed to the pain that having a child could potentially bring. I will not have a life filled with worry. My heart won’t break each time my son or daughter feels disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it’s like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That’s what my life won’t be like.

And now I struggle to figure out what it will be.  In a strange way, infertility can be a gift.  Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back.  Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships.  It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.

And it’s led me on a quest, which has not yet been fulfilled.  I no longer believe that the only way to experience your heart walking around outside of your body is by bearing children.  There are other paths.  I just need to discover what mine is.

Peggy McGillicuddy is counselor and group facilitator who is actively searching for her heart.  To join her on this quest, check out her blog A Kid First!

 

Whiny Wednesday: I don’t want to talk about this anymore August 15, 2012

This post was originally published on May 11, 2011.

Let me just say, right up front, that I love the community of women I’ve found through this blog. I’ve really been amazed at how people are willing to rally around and help others they’ve never even met. I attribute the speed of my healing progress to this community and to having somewhere to go to talk about infertility and childlessness.

But sometimes I feel as if I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.

For the past two weeks I’ve stood up in front of a theater full of strangers and told my story. It was a fantastic experience and everyone I met was wonderful and supportive. (More about this very soon.) I know that talking about this issue is bringing it to the forefront and building understanding. People have come up to me and told me as much.

But sometimes I just want to be little old me. I don’t want to keep talking about “it.”

Recently, this article reminded me of why I don’t want to talk about “it.” Here, this writer pours out her heart and her “regrets” at never having children.

“I know, for example, that not being a mother means there is a part of me which remains unused, a love that will be forever unexpressed. I know that what any mother describes as the most profound love she has ever known is, to me, a locked door — there is so much love I will never be able to give, wisdom and understanding I cannot share, shelter and solace I cannot provide.”

I admire for having the guts to say that, and I know she’s right, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. There are a million ways to substitute for not having children, but none of them are really going to fill that gap. I know that; I feel that.

But, then she goes on to say:

“My regrets will always linger. My life is a poorer place for not having children, and I am less of a woman for not being a mother.”

And that’s when I want to yell, “No!! Pull yourself together, woman! You have a successful career, friends, a great life. How can you say your life is a poorer place and that you are less of a woman because you don’t have children?” Forgive me, friends, but it just comes across as feeling sorry for herself, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

And this is why I don’t want to talk about this sometimes. I don’t want to be defined by my childlessness; I don’t want to be a one-ring circus with the same act playing night after night; I don’t want to be “that poor pathetic childless woman, who never quite got over it.”

All that being said, I’m going to keep talking about it, because it’s an important topic to me, but I’m keeping an eye on myself to make sure it doesn’t become the only thing I can talk about, to make sure I don’t start feeling sorry for myself.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Women in the News August 14, 2012

This post was originally published on November 2, 2010

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Lately I’ve observed a troubling trend. The bleeding news that leads frequently starts with something like “A mother of three…,” as in “A mother of three was found murdered in her home” or “A grandmother was brutally raped.” And it got me thinking…are only tragedies involving mothers newsworthy? Would it be any less tragic if the victim was, say, for example, me?

It’s not just in the primetime news slots that I see this occurring. Three recent shows in Oprah’s final season were titled “The Bravest Mom in the World is Set Free” (9/22), “The Mom Who Fathered Her Own Children” (9/29), and “One Mom, 20 Personalities” (10/6). In each case, I can’t imagine the story would be any less impactful if we substituted the word “Woman” for “Mom.”

Who’s behind this? Did some big marketing study show that “Mom” is a buzzword that attracts viewers (and advertisers)? Is there some sinister plot afoot to further ostracize women without babies? What does it say about our society that being a mom makes you a better story? And how does all this make us, women who are childfree, feel about ourselves?

Me, I’m kind of pissed. But I’m not ready to carry a sign, write angry letters, or start an impassioned campaign online. I already feel marginalized, and I don’t want to subject myself to the “you-must-be-a-child-hating-anti-mom-bitch” response I fear would come.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in AAA’s Westways, GRIT, Real Simple, and 805 Living magazines. Read “How to Be the World’s Best Aunt Ever” on eHow.com.

 

Hope vs. Acceptence August 13, 2012

Life Without Baby is taking a short hiatus. Please enjoy some favorite posts from the last two-and-a-half years.

This post was originally published on April 12, 2011. You might also enjoy the follow-up post from April 16.

In the past week two different people have made comments to me that have amounted to the same message: Don’t give up hope; there’s still a chance you could have a baby.

Whether you’re childless-by-choice, or by circumstance, I’m willing to bet you’ve had someone say something similar to you.

“It could still happen.”

“You’ll change your mind.”

“Don’t give up hope.”

The “don’t give up hope” type of comment is the one that hits me closest to the core. While I think that hope is key to human survival, I think it can be dangerous if it isn’t backed by action. Just hoping something will happen someday is how potential and lives get frittered away.

While I was trying to get pregnant, I was full of hope, but I was also doing everything I possibly could to make it happen. Now that I am no longer trying, I am no longer holding out hope.

But this doesn’t mean I feel hopeless. And this is what I want to be able to explain to people who still carry hope for me.

Losing hope of having children is very different from accepting and coming-to-terms with the fact that I won’t. I am not hopeless; I haven’t thrown in the towel; I haven’t rolled over and surrendered to my childlessness. I have made a conscious decision to stop my quest to conceive and for the past two years I’ve been working on coming-to-terms with that decision. I haven’t lost hope; I’ve just changed my outcome. I haven’t simply given up on the idea of having children; I’ve made a decision to live childfree.

I know that many of these comments are said with the best of intentions. People who care about us can’t bear to see us not get something we want, or not get something that they think we should want. There is still a pervading idea that people who don’t have children do, or eventually will, want them. But some of us just don’t, or won’t, or did once, but don’t anymore. For the latter group, it’s not about giving up hope; it’s about accepting what is and building a life from there.

 

Chero: Joan of Arc August 10, 2012

This post was originally published on March 28, 2011.

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods


Joan of Arc has been known by many names, including Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans, and Saint Joan. Born in 1412, this illiterate peasant girl rose to fame when she stepped in to lead the French army during the Hundred Years’ War, an ongoing struggle between the British and French over who could claim and hold the French throne. Here are a few highlights of her life:

  • When she was 12 years old, she had her first Divine vision when Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret came to her in her family’s field and told her to help kick the British invaders out of the country. She later revealed her father had “dreamed [she] would go off with men-of-arms” and, he told her brothers, “in truth, if I thought this thing would happen which I have dreamed about my daughter, I would want you to drown her; and if you would not, I would drown her myself.” She soon left home—without first asking her father’s permission.
  • At 16, she presented herself to military leaders, won them over with a prophesy of victory, and got herself appointed as head of an army that was near defeat.
  • Under God’s guidance, Joan led the French army in significant victories. She earned the respect of her troops when she was shot in the neck with an arrow—and in another battle was hit in the helmet with a stone cannonball—and continued to lead.
  • Her success on the battlefield made it possible for Charles VII to take the throne.
  • Then she was captured, sold to the British, and imprisoned when Charles VII refused to pay her ransom. She was tried for heresy in a church court. “Everything I have done is at God’s command,” Joan testified, yet she was convicted, condemned, and burned at the stake. She was 19 at the time of her death.
  • Twenty-five years later, the Catholic Church reversed her sentence and made her a martyr. She was canonized in 1920 as a patron saint of France, as well as for military personnel, prisoners, and the Women’s Army Corps.

By 1750, average life expectancy in France was 25, which means it was even less 300 years earlier. Had she followed a traditional path, Joan would have spent her brief life working hard, marrying young, and giving birth to a number of children, of whom maybe half would survive infancy.

But no one called her maman. Instead, Joan mothered an army, aided an ungrateful boy-king, and saved her country.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.

 

How Does Your Company Define Family? August 9, 2012

This post was originally published on May 3, 2012.

By Maybe Lady Liz

In my B.B. life (Before Blog), I worked in Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company. Part of my job was communicating our benefits package to employees, prospective employees, and surveys like the Top 100 Companies to Work For. The magic words to get ourselves on that Top 100 list and snag potential new hires? Family friendly.

Sounds nice, huh? Brings to mind things like flex time, telecommuting, and additional days off. And these are all true. For parents. Flex time means you can leave early to pick your kids up from school. Telecommuting means it’s not a problem for you to work from home when your child has a runny nose. And additional days off means two days off each year for employees to attend their child’s school-related activities.

Of course, there’s nothing in the fine print that says these benefits are exclusive to parents. But try asking your boss to stay home because your husband has a sore throat, or to leave early for a romantic dinner out and compare that to the reaction a mom receives when she asks to come in late to attend her kid’s award ceremony. Parents who take time off for these activities are revered for their family values – and typically aren’t expected to make it up. Those without kids who try to access the same perks are dubbed lazy and irresponsible, despite the fact they spend much of their time covering the workload for (some, not all) missing-in-action parents.

So why do they call these benefits family friendly when they don’t encompass all types of families? The nice snappy sound of alliteration? People do love alliteration. But no, I think it’s that people don’t really associate the word family with a childless/free couple. With 20% of women aged 45 not having kids, isn’t it time we re-evaluate the definition of that word and start structuring our benefits programs accordingly?

Most of us work pretty hard at some pretty stressful jobs. Those of us with only one or two weeks of vacation could really use an additional day off now and then to feel like our jobs haven’t completely consumed our lives. Parents take that opportunity on a regular basis, to say nothing of the six weeks – several months mothers take off for the birth of each child. Childfree/less women have a special challenge to ensure they find meaning in their lives through something other than the built-in mission of motherhood. Some find it through their careers, but for those who don’t, shouldn’t they be afforded the same rights as parents to pursue the things most meaningful to them?

It’s not all bad news – there are some progressive companies out there offering ala carte benefits options to employees that ensure single or childfree/less employees get an equal slice of the benefits pie, and aren’t stuck subsidizing the cost of other people’s children’s insurance. But I imagine we’re still a long ways away from the Fortune 500 shifting their views on the definition of a real family.

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 Maybe Baby, Maybe Not.

 

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?

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Minivans August 7, 2012

This post was originally published on February 22, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Aside from the obvious fears of pregnancy and childbirth – related pains and complications, what I dreaded most about becoming a mom someday was the transition from hot babe to minivan driver. Whenever friends waxed poetical about their automatic sliding doors, roomy seats, and safety features (really?), I wanted to gag. Not me. No way. Never, I thought.

Be careful what you wish for, right?

But now that I know there will be no children to haul around, I’m excited to rediscover a whole wonderful world of fun cars. And because I won’t be funding anyone’s college education (see “Money” post), it’s possible I could pull one out of my garage some day. Here are a few I’m ogling:

Sure the red-hot Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class screams midlife crisis, but who cares?! It’s gorgeous! “With a retractable hardtop that transforms it from coupe to open roadster in 22 seconds,” it allows me to imagine I could be the next Danica Patrick, hair flowing in the wind as I zoom around the track…or just out to dinner. I also love that the description includes “Seats 2 adults.” Yup, that’s us.

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler has a tagline that reads, “The Ultimate Experience for the Person who Wants Freedom to Explore.” And because there’s no one in the backseat being cranky, I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. That’s Freedom, baby!

Porsche now makes family-friendly vehicles, including the 4-door Cayenne hybrid. They’re stylish, I think, but my heart still belongs to the classic Boxster. Top down, a drive along the coast, Beyonce on the stereo. No room for packing a playpen, stroller, or quilted bag filled with “entertainment” and drippy snacks for the kids. P-a-r-a-d-i-s-e.

I’m sure the marketing execs at Harley-Davidson hired supermodel Marisa Miller to entice men of all shapes and sizes to buy a motorcycle, but I’m here to tell them that I’m also looking to pick up the bling, boots, pants, and leather jacket she’s wearing. (Are they washable? It doesn’t matter!)

Gullwing doors, plush leather seats, a stereo system that automatically ejects songs performed by The Wiggles…. So many fabulous possibilities. Vrooom!

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She currently gets around in a hip Scion xB.

 

Laughter: The Best Medicine August 6, 2012

This post was originally published on September 26, 2011

When was the last time you laughed? I mean really laughed. I’m talking deep, belly rumbling, side aching, snorting, laughter. Odds are, it’s been a while.

Last weekend I laughed longer and harder than I’ve laughed in a long, long time, and it felt SO GOOD!

The first bout came as my husband was telling our friends a funny and embarrassing story about his 21st birthday. I’ll spare the details, but think boys, bar, beer, waitress – use your imagination and you’ll be close. I’d heard the story before, but forgot the punch line, and for some reason it hit me right on the funny bone this time. I laughed so hard I had to excuse myself from the room to avoid snorting my adult beverage down my nose.

The second time happened when I rode a rollercoaster – something I haven’t done in absolutely YEARS! I certainly didn’t do anything so wild and outrageous during my TTC years (just in case, you know) and the opportunity hasn’t presented itself since. So, last weekend I rode The Roller Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel in Las Vegas.

Let me tell you, I laughed! I whooped down the first drop, howled through the corkscrew, screamed in delight around the spiral and laughed so hard my legs shook. And do you know what? I felt great!

Something loosened up when I laughed like that. Some lump of built up tension released in me, and the weight that’s been dragging me down for so long lifted. Maybe it’s only a temporary reprieve, but I’ll take it. Laughter really is an excellent medicine.

So, if you could use a laugh, here’s a good article about the health benefits of laughter, including some tips for adding laughter to your life. (I’m adding “ride a rollercoaster to the list.)

I know that when life doesn’t go as planned it’s hard to find any humor at all, and when you’re healing from loss and dealing with grief, nothing’s funny. I know. But finding something to smile about, even just a giggle, can do you a world of good, and when the time is right, a great big belly laugh can help put your whole life back into perspective.

So, my challenge to you this week: Find something to laugh about. If nothing’s funny, just force yourself to smile until it turns into a giggle, and then let the laughter follow. I promise you, you’ll feel so much better.