Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Holiday Help December 11, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I don’t know what’s different about this year, but I’ve found myself capital-D Dreading the coming holiday season. I think I’m okay with my childfree status, I think I’m ready to create meaningful traditions that embrace my little family of two, I think I’ll be just fine at all the “family” sing-alongs, tree trimming parties, open houses, etc. Problem is, I don’t feel fine.

For so many years, I anticipated what holidays in my home would look like, and it’s just not that easy transitioning away from those dreams. So many of the activities I loved participating in as a child and young adult involved children, so what’s a childfree gal to do?

I turned to one of my favorite cheros (a heroine who happens to be childfree) for advice. Melanie Notkin is the founder of Savvy Auntie and the author of a book by the same title. (If you haven’t already, check out her fab Web site here.) In the “Holidays” section (page 124) she reminds me that “with the parents so often extrabusy…an auntie can actually help by making herself available to her nieces and nephews.” I know how being with my nieces and nephews takes me completely out of my head and gives me so much joy, so after perusing suggestions from Melanie and some of her readers, I started thinking about what I could do to creating some merriment and childlike wonderment for myself in the next several weeks. I could:

  • Offer to take the nieces out to shop for gifts for their parents.
  • Invite friends and their kids over for a cookie decorating (and eating) party.
  • Over Skype, read a classic holiday story—’Twas the Night Before Christmas or The Polar Express—to the children of faraway friends.
  • Bundle up my nephews and take them out to view the decorative lights in their neighborhood.
  • Host a hot chocolate tasting party (peppermint, cinnamon, and boozy for the big kids).
  • Invite other childfree friends over for Game Night—Charades, Celebrity, all those lively group games my family used to play when we got together.

I’m also thinking about spending extra time in the gym, reading a big juicy book, and watching all of the Harry Potter movies on DVD. I think these distraction options are healthier than fudge (which I’m still considering), and I’m also open to suggestions. I’d love to hear from you. How are you planning to face the holiday season this year?

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

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Angels October 30, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My friend Deedy is the gentleperson who visits old souls in nursing homes. She sends flowers for no particular reason, writes cards to simply say “Thinking of you!”, calls regularly just to chat and reminisce. Now in her 80s, she has a driver take her on her rounds, otherwise she hasn’t slowed much in her efforts. She’s a champion conversationalist, a goodwill ambassador, a messenger of cheer, an angel on Earth.

Long ago she recognized that friends were slowly dying of loneliness because their own extended families were too busy with jobs, children, and other important responsibilities to tend to their elders, so Deedy picked up the slack. She doesn’t do any of this because she expects anything in return, but because she has a good heart. And she’s able to do this with such vigor because she is not married and doesn’t have children of her own. Ironic, isn’t it?

I’m often asked who my childfree role models were. To be honest, it wasn’t until last year, when we did the series on cheros (heros who happen to be childfree), that was I able to I think of any. For some women it’s an inspiring aunt, teacher, or boss. I can’t recall one childfree woman who was part of my growing-up years. Then there was Deedy, who came along in my late 30s, just as I needed someone to shine a light and show me a different path. Deedy is my personal chero. I hope I have learned well from her, for I intend on following her example and becoming a chero to others.

Look around you and share with us: Who is your personal chero?

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

 

Saluting a Four-Star General August 31, 2012

Photo credit: U.S. Army photo

This post was originally published on March 10, 2011 as part of National Women’s History Month.

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

To follow the trajectory of a Hollywood starlet or celebrity fashionista, just open the pages of a current pop culture magazine or click onto one of the gossip-fueled Web sites. You can read about their many romances, fashion hits and misses, critiques of past performances, and buzz about their latest projects.

Now, if you really want to be impressed by a rising star, visit http://www.army-mil, the official homepage of the United States Army, and read up on Ann E. Dunwoody. Her bio will dazzle you with its listing of her responsibilities and awards. Highlights include service in Desert Storm and being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Legion of Merit (three times). In 2008, she further distinguished herself, and established her place in our history, when she became our first female four-star general.

I need to repeat that: Our first female four-star general.

In an organization that has been historically male-centric, this is an extraordinary achievement. Yet “… I grew up in a family that didn’t know what glass ceilings were,” she said at the time of her nomination. “This…only reaffirms what I have known to be true about the military throughout my career, that the doors continue to open for men and women in uniform.”

I was going to hail her as a trailblazer until I read this quote, an example of her humility, character, grace, and leadership: “I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer [yup], but it’s important that we remember the generations of women whose dedication, commitment, and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today.”

Join me in saluting General Ann E. Dunwoody, soldier, wife, childfree woman, and door opener.

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.

 

Chero: Marilyn Monroe August 24, 2012

This post was originally published on March 29, 2011.

So many words come to mind when we think of Marilyn – bombshell, icon, tragic, to name but a few. Her image is universally recognizable, and almost half a century after her death, she remains an enigma. Above all, though, Marilyn Monroe was a star. She understood fame, even if she didn’t always like it, and she understood that her image was everything. She played the dumb blonde to perfection, but beneath that veneer, she was far from innocent or ignorant. You only have to read some of her whip-smart quotes to see that.

I have a special affinity for Marilyn that I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on. Her movies are among my guilty pleasures, with Some Like it Hot topping my list. There was something fragile and untouchable about her, and yet she had a strength and fortitude that I admire.

Marilyn was married three times, to James Dougherty, and more famously to Joe DiMaggio and then Arthur Miller. She never had children.

I wondered if she was childfree-by-choice, and how having children would have changed her life, her career, and her image. This was during an era when stars disappeared to quietly give birth and then reappeared on screen as stunning as ever. Motherhood and sexiness did not go hand-in-hand.

But in snooping around for this post, I discovered that Marilyn had suffered several miscarriages and at least two ectopic pregnancies that were terminated. For me, this information casts an entirely different light on the sadness I could always sense behind Marilyn’s eyes. Maybe that’s the unexplainable thing that has always drawn me to her.

Marilyn is one of my favorite Cheroes from this month, and she’s also responsible for the quote that stumped almost everyone in the Expressing Motherhood contest! Fortunately, Jennifer Segundo got it, and by virtue of being the ONLY correct answer, she is also the lucky winner! Thanks to everyone else for some great guesses.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Chero: Nancy Wake, The White Mouse August 3, 2012

Courtesy: New York Times, Australia War Memorial, via European Pressphoto Agency

This post was originally published on December 2, 2011.

The world recently lost an inspiring chero…and a force to be reckoned with.

Nancy Wake was a freespirit who enjoyed the odd drink and a good laugh. After working with the French Resistance to help shelter airmen and prisoners of war, she was recruited by the British Special Operations agent. Although it’s rumored that she requested face cream and silk stocking be air-dropped in along with grenades and Sten guns, and that her flirtatious nature and alluring good looks aided her in eluding the Gestapo, Nancy Wake was not to be trifled with.

In the weeks prior to D-Day, she parachuted into southern France blew up the Gestapo headquarters, bicycled over 300 miles to find a radio operator, and reportedly killed a German sentry with her bare hands. Not surprisingly, she became the Gestapo’s most wanted person. Her ability to avoid capture earned her the nickname “White Mouse” and her courage earned her honors from five nations, making her the most decorated female spy of World War II.

She once told an interviewer, “I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

Nancy Wake certainly didn’t do that. She passed away earlier this year at the ripe old age of 98.

 

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.

 

With Eyes of Faith: Chero, Elisabeth Leseur March 22, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“Those whom we encounter on our earthly path

often see in passing the outer wrappings of our being

and go their way, confident of knowing us well enough. 

Let us be careful not to do the same with the companions of our life.”

~Elisabeth Leseur

Among childless women, there are leaders and there are followers.  Many of the Cheroes celebrated on this blog are leaders who made a big splash, had great impact on the world, and made a name for themselves. That’s great if you’re a leader, but not all of us are called to do that. Elisabeth Leseur provides us with an example of what happens when a childless woman simply follows Christ.

In 1889, Pauline Elisabeth Arrighi married Felix Leseur after meeting him through mutual friends.  Felix was a doctor who also directed a large insurance company and it was sometime during medical school that he lost his faith.  After marrying, he permitted Elisabeth to practice her religion, but he and his friends constantly ridiculed her for what they thought were ignorant superstitions.  Despite this tension in their marriage, they loved each other passionately and Felix provided his wife with a wonderful life, which included travel to countries like Italy, Russia, Turkey and Greece. In her own words, Elisabeth provides a glimpse into the relationship: “Some joyful days, because of a present from Felix, and more because of the words that accompanied it – words so full of love that I am moved to great happiness.”

From the time they married until her death from breast cancer in 1914, Elisabeth prayed for her husband’s return to the Christian faith.  She kept a diary to give voice to her experience, but Felix did not learn of it until after she died.  A year later, he not only regained his faith, but also published the diary.  (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, published by Sopia Institute Press, is still available!)

In his remarks that preface the diary, Felix says: “My beloved wife, Elisabeth, prayed incessantly for my return to the Faith…But she did this secretly, for she never argued with me and never spoke to me of the supernatural side of her life, save by her example.”

A few years later, in 1923, Felix was ordained a Dominican priest, and over the next two decades devoted his ministry to giving talks about Elisabeth’s spirituality.  Father Leseur died in 1950 and the Church opened a cause for his wife’s canonization in 1990.

What I admire about this Chero is that she did not leave a difficult marriage to pursue holiness elsewhere, nor did she worry about leading causes to justify her existence as a childfree woman. So if you’re feeling a lot of societal pressure to go out and do something to fill the void left by infertility, think of Elisabeth…and pray.

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She is praying for her own husband’s return to the faith and found domestic bliss by acting on the advice of good marriage counselors.  

 

Irish Chero: Adi Roche March 16, 2012

Photo courtesy: Business and Finance

By Jane G.

Adi Roche was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, in 1957.  She is a campaigner for peace, humanitarian aid and education.  She was working as a volunteer with the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1991, when she received a fax message from Belarus, a country ravaged by the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.  This message, which was to change the course of her life, simply stated “SOS, for God’s sake, help us get the children out!”.  So began her life’s work, to establish Chernobyl Children’s Project International, which since its establishment in Ireland in 1991 has delivered over €80 million in aid to the areas most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and has brought over 13,000 children to Ireland on rest and recuperation vacations, some for life saving surgery. The organization expanded into the USA in 2001.

For her work with CCPI, Adi has been honored by various awards: the Medal of Francysk Skaryna (by the Belarusian Government), the European Woman Laureate Award, Irish Person of the Year, the European Person of the Year award, The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the World of Children’s 2010 Health Award.  She lives in Cork, with her husband of several years, Sean Dunne.  They have no children of their own.

In an interview in Hot Press magazine in 1997, she stated that she had suffered a number of miscarriages in the early years of her marriage.  Because she subsequently chose to pursue a career of humanitarian work involving exposure to areas of high level radioactive contamination, and because of the sheer time commitment her work takes up, she and her husbanded decided to remain childfree.  In another interview she is quoted as saying ” the day we cannot shed a tear for another human being or feel an emotion about the suffering or the agony of another human being, no matter what part of the world they are in, is the day I think we switch the light off on the planet, because we have lost who we are as a species and we have lost our sense of responsibility of being part of the human family”.   A mother not in the conventional sense, but a mother to thousands of children none the less, Adi is the person whom I proudly nominate as an Irish chero.

Jane G is 42 year old Irish woman, who is married and childless not by choice.  She lives in County Tipperary with her husband and three cats, and works in the field of finance.  She and her husband recently became involved as a host family with the Chernobyl Lifeline Ireland project, an organization which arranges rest and recuperation visits to Ireland for children from disadvantaged areas of Belarus.  Read about their life changing experience with their two adorable seven-year-old Belarussian guests here.