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.