Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About All the Single Ladies September 4, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

One of the many beautiful things about our LWB community is the variety of voices and perspectives we’ve brought together. We’ve created a safe place here where we can cry, offer support, share hard-earned wisdom, and even whine about our different yet similar experiences. But as I read through recent posts and revisit older gems, I feel there’s one segment of our group that we need to encourage to join in more. Single sisters: This is your invitation to speak up!

The whole childfree-by-chance-or-circumstance status is painful, period, and I’d like those of us who are lucky to be in happy relationships to pause and acknowledge the quagmire of emotions when it’s compounded by the whole single-not-by-choice scenario. In my case, I spent my youth dreaming about the family I would create for myself. My 20s contained a series of disappointments and heartbreaks. By my early 30s, I hated how women (and men) would come up to me at weddings and baby showers and say “You’re next!” when I wanted so desperately to be part of the married and mommy clubs. Every time I heard what was intended as encouragement, it came across as another acknowledgement of my failings.

It got worse when I hit 40. I’d be standing in the middle of a country club, draped in a hideous bridesmaid dress, toes crammed in hideous shoes, smile frozen on my face while I stood among the other single ladies hoping to catch the bouquet and magically change my fate. I’d catch the eye of a married friend, she’d open her mouth as if to say It, then a look would cross her face and she’d decide to zip her lips. Peachy, I’d think, everyone else has given up on me too. I felt myself growing invisible, and I don’t want any of us to feel that way.

Platitudes such as “It will happen when you least expect it…God must have a plan for you to birth something else…You need to love yourself more, then love will find you” just don’t fly here. At LWB, we’re about having real, open, and often painful discussions about who we are and what we experience. Through our efforts, we hope to promote awareness and acceptance, to create a more inclusive culture, and to heal ourselves.

So, if you’re a gal who happens to be childfree and single, join the conversation. Comment on posts and share your unique perspectives. Check out the “childless couples—childless singles” discussion initiated by Elena K. Start your own discussion or create a group on our Home page. If you’d like to submit a guest post on this subject, visit this link for more information.

Please share your hurts, your reflections, your questions, your experiences. I wish I could have told my younger self, “You matter. You have something to contribute. You are appreciated and loved just as you are.” If you need to hear that, your LWB sisters are here to remind you that it’s true.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s at work on a memoir about her experience as a temporary single mommy and how it helped her come to peace with being childfree.


20 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About All the Single Ladies”

  1. loreleigray Says:

    I think there’s a slight mis-application of the word childfree, here. A childfree person is someone who has chosen not to have kids, someone who has not, does not, and will not ever /want/ children. When a person is forced by circumstance to not have children, but wants them, the proper term is childless. It always nettles me just a little bit to have the term mis-applied to women who want children but cannot have them for whatever reason. It mucks up the term for those of us who have chosen not to have babies.

    As a person who is definitely childfree (It’s a choice I made long ago.) I have to tell you, it isn’t painful at all. I sincerely enjoy my life without children, and wish that more people understood that no, really, I don’t want babies.

    That said, do I feel some sympathy for women who wanted kids and could not have them for whatever reason? Yes, yes I do. Do I really understand why they grieve for it? Honestly, no.

    • Julie Says:

      I think the term child-free is used because she is trying focus on what is gained rather than lost. I know that technically the term for women that want children and aren’t able to have them is childless, but as one of these “childless” women I am trying to focus on what good can come from the life that I never expected to have. No disrespect is meant to women like yourself who chose not to have children by using that term.

    • Mali Says:

      I disagree. The term childfree is surely for those who are enjoying and relishing their lives without children, regardless of how we got here. That’s a bit like saying a mother who got pregnant whilst she was on birth control doesn’t deserve the term mother, that she should always be described as “reluctant mother” or “accidental mother.” It nettles me that just because I wanted children, I am supposed to spend the rest of my life grieving that, and that I’m not allowed to fully appreciate my life without children – childfree – when in fact, that is the life I am living, and living happily.

      • loreleigray Says:

        I know there was no disrespect intended; it just makes it that much harder for those of us who made the choice long ago — I made the choice long before I even got a period — to be taken seriously when we say, “I do not want children.” I know, Mali, that you don’t think it matters, but it does. Trust me, there’s a giant distinction between one who has always not wanted children, and one who’s been forced to arrive at a childless state. It’s a distinction that is difficult to understand unless you’ve been where I am: constantly having to fend off the push to have children you don’t want. Even now, at 36 (when having a child is likely to result in serious complications for both myself and the potential baby) I get lectures on how I should want, MUST want children. I’ve even had people go the, “I’ll pray for you!” route — meaning they’re going to pray to God that I get pregnant against my will, and be forced to raise a child I don’t want. People will show a little respect and sympathy for an infertile woman, but will bludgeon a woman who has decided, even though she is fertile, not to have them.

        Anyway, I do not want to turn a lovely blog into a war, because it isn’t the purpose of the blog, and I do totally appreciate what the blog is about. It just nettles me to see, “I’m childfree! (Even if I wanted a baby.)” It’s just… frustrating.

      • loribeth Says:

        What bothers ME is when parents co-opt the term “childfree” — basically meaning they sent the kids to Grandma’s for the weekend or camp for the summer, etc. Ugh.

  2. Maria Says:

    This is a very valid discussion. I was single for 35 years before I got married. It was very hard to be in a large family that only cares about children to be single that long. A lot of people couldn’t understand why I was still single and suggested I was too picky. Too picky? Ridiculous. I had a very good life alone (which I admit was lonely at times) but I wasn’t going to risk mucking it up by settling for someone who wasn’t right for me. When you are with the wrong person, 24 hours a day, the misery of that far, far outweighs loneliness. But the loneliness can really wear you down. I remember physically aching for a sense of companionship at times. The point is, it wasn’t my choice to not have children. All of the things that set in motion the timing of my finding my husband, trying to get pregnant, were out of my control. I feel lucky to have my husband but I can’t help but dwell on what I don’t have and what might have been if my life had been different. Dumb way to think but I’m coming out of a bad weekend and am having a hard time thinking positive today.

  3. rantywoman Says:

    Love seeing this topic come up…looking forward to the comments… reposted here:

  4. jeopardygirl Says:

    I was at a restaurant on the weekend, called “Aunt Mabel’s.” It was named for the Aunt of the owner, and had a fairly long bio about her on the back of the menu. My favourite quote was, “She never married, because she never met a man she couldn’t live without.” This woman made a significant impact on her family, even though she didn’t marry and didn’t have kids. I thought that was pretty awesome.

  5. tidewater Says:

    Being out of control, I think, is the hardest for us independent, resourceful single ladies. We’ve spent all these years learning how to build a career, travel on our own, and live on our own successfully. There is always just an assumption that “when it’s time it’s time”, and your partner and the children that follow will appear in your life. That’s where all those platitudes come from. For our mother’s generation, it did just happen. I went to college without thinking much about it – I think my mother got married without thinking much about it.

    Unfortunately, you can’t control the appearance of the right partner. Besides going off and making the financially-risky move of having a child on your own when you are the right age, there is really nothing more to be done. I can’t make him commit more, I can’t force meeting the right one in the right time.

    The best I can do is try to conjure up a life worth lived without a family – and read LWB when lonely. 🙂

    • Maria Says:

      Well said. I recall all through my 20s my mother harassing me, “when are you going to get married, you’re not getting any younger, if you keep this up, you’re going to die all alone.” Literally that is what she said. When I turned 30 and she said this to me, I yelled at her “what do you want me to do mom? I’ve tried, I’m dating, but no one wants to marry me, no one. what am I supposed to do?!” My father got it for the first time and looked very sad for me. After that, he stood up for me and shut her up when she started these comments. You’re right, there is nothing we can do to control this part of our life. All we can do is put ourselves out there, and when your dating and getting your heart broken, it can make you feel like a punching bag. But there is nothing else we can do.

      • Anon Says:

        It seems a lot of mothers say things like that to their daughters, but it was just the opposite for me. As a teen, my mother told me “you better not get pregnant!” I never did. Now I’m trying to cope with being 47 and childless and about to undergo a procedure that will make even my silly little dream a moot point. Even though I am extremely happy with my life, I occasionally have a crying spell. I guess I’m having a hard day today, and found this website.

  6. IrisD Says:

    There are a few young women who were my students more than a decade ago, and with whom I’m still in touch. I hope that they will find someone to share their lives with, but I also try to be that voice that reminds them to enjoy their lives and that they are perfect just as they are. I wish I had gotten this message more, instead of the platitudes, or the pressure. It took my partner a loooooong time to commit. I’m lucky no (knocking hard on wood) to have a supportive and loving partner (though we certainly have our issues and moments), but many of my friends have had some really tough times with their spouses, often ending in divorce. I try to tell these young women and my niece to work on being happy on their own. We never know if and for how long we can rely on someone else.

  7. Wolfers Says:

    Thank you for writing the post- it is lonesome here being in the “minority” of single childless (or child-free for ones who had made peace), and in my case, furthermore being in a minority in a minority (being Deaf) can be evermore lonely. I chose not to marry until I find the right person that I’d see myself living with more than a decade (Had one close call- literally cancelled the wedding on discovery of the groom being a pedophile- I always like to say…FIND OUT before getting wedded, otherwise it’s such a MESS afterwards!) That then contributed to my decision to hold off having kids until later on. Alas, by the time I decided single motherhood is right for me, that’s when I had discovered after medical tests and surgery, children was not going to happen. Granted, it has been a bit after six months since surgery, so I’m still…. angry. So being lonely (without a partner) is… can we say, painful, not having support, nobody to cuddle in bed and to reassure me that there’s more to life than children. Nobody to tell me that we are a family (two of us). Nobody to listen and help me get to think realistic when I’d come home and rant about another client arrested for child abuse.
    I’ll end this right now, since I’m still sad about two friends announcing pregnancies and one had her baby last week, so that is even furthermore reducing numbers of child-free/childless friends for me here (who could sign or are Deaf) to just one (and she is trying to get pregnant) in this town. So.. Talk later.

  8. Elena Says:

    Thank you Kathleen for bringing this issue to the blog. I am looking forward to the discussions.
    as tidewater writes: “We’ve spent all these years learning how to build a career, travel on our own, and live on our own successfully. ”
    I think its even more complicated for some of us. Yeah I built a career. My Ex was actually a big part of that, we shared a lot of professional interests and sometimes activities. I actually travelled mostly with friends, and then with Ex. i learned to live on my own – surrounded by other single friends, when i was a student. then i lived and shared my life for 10 years with my Ex. Founding a family together was supposed to become the happy follow-up to it all. But that never happened. I am 40 and have yet to figure out how to live alone when all of my friends are families and i spend my time working, learn to spend my holidays alone, find meaning in life because after 15 years in the job and having actually expected to stop work to become a mom for years, i don’t find any meaning in the career anymore. Having TRIED to have a child, not just “never had the opportunity” for a long time, i just don’t have any idea what this life is supposed to be about anymore. Not that i am hiding at home whining: I work, i have hobbies and friends. It’s the emptiness that is hard to explain to anyone. And the longer this state i am in continues, the less sure i am that a new relationship will “help”.

    • Maria Says:

      I am struggling with that same feeling of emptiness. My career no longer provides me the same satisfaction it once did. I look at my future as lonely and missing out more and more. It can be suffocating at times.

      • rantywoman Says:

        “Suffocating” is a good word for it. I read through the discussion Elena started and it was really helpful in that “I am not alone” way. I do sometimes feel like I am going to explode because I have nobody left to discuss these feelings with, as almost all of my friends are married with kids now. Elena also does a good job of describing the dilemmas inherent to dating when you are nearing the end of your fertility, still want kids, and yet are unsure whether that’s a realistic hope.

      • Elena Says:

        In my better moments 🙂 i realize that the “mum-life” will have it’s aspects of routine and being suffocating too. I guess it’s the change we are yearning for. I think if you have children, you will experience change nearly every day: The children develop and grow and you can watch them do that and help them along. We can’t always do that in our careers. But i guess in some professional roles, we can have that as well. And on the other hand i guess some mothers feel very stuck for a long period of their life. It’s probably hard sometimes do discern between the “i’m not going to have a child”-crisis and the simple midlife-crisis that can hit anybody. What i’m struggling with at the moment as i wrote in the forum is that, yes, we have to admit: becoming a mom takes the career pressure away; giving us a new task but for some moms also a great freedom to pursue their interests because, let’s be honest, hubby will be the main breadwinner. And we thought we would have that too without even realizing that it means we make ourselves very dependent on another person. After all, we thought being a mom was such a worthy task in itself. Now that this is taken away from us we realize that we really truly have to fend for ourselves and find meaningful lives in ourselves.

  9. shari Says:

    I turned 50 last month. I never thought I would alone at this part of my life. I waited until I was 41 to get married. Even though I was 41, I felt I was going to have a happy family to fulfill my hopes and dreams. Within 5 years, I was divorced. What hurt the most was not so much the divorce, but the fact there was not going to be a family. I realized it was just going to be me. Sure I have friends, but they all have families. My immediate family all have families of their own. I try to fill my life with books, movies and my dogs. But nothing gets rid of the loneliness. The outside world sees me as a cheerful, optimistic woman. But I swear there are times I would pay for someone just to hold me.

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