Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

In Consideration of Him December 27, 2012

grief togetherBy Quasi-momma

I once was blind, but now I see, to paraphrase an old hymn.   That pretty much sums up my perception of Hubs feelings about our inability to have a child of our own together.

I’m probably not the first woman to make the mistake of thinking her husband’s lack of visible and expressed emotion meant they were “doing just fine.”  Nor will I be the last.

Men react to loss differently than women. Men have the need to be strong. They don’t like to reflect.  Instead, they act.  I remember after our second pregnancy loss, my parents flew into town to help us through it. During the first few days, Hubs and Pop were just a whirlwind of household projects. It grated on my nerves.  We were supposed to be grieving, and yet there they were painting and replacing fixtures.  By day three I lost it on Hubs.  How dare he take our time of grief and use it as an excuse to take time off to do chores around the house?  What kind of unfeeling jerk was he?  Why wasn’t he as distraught and depressed as I was?

Earlier this year as I started on the path to accepting that “mommyhood” was not in the cards for me we fought again over my need to put some space between me and a pregnant relative.  I begged to be excused from family events.  In the face of his insistence, I lashed out at him in pain and anger.  “You don’t understand,” I hissed. “You’ve got children of your own.  You’ll never know what this feels like.”

I continued to see that way for some time.   But the fact is that he was and is hurting too.  We just hurt in different ways.  It hurts him to see me grieving the loss of a dream.  It hurts him that he can’t do anything to change our circumstance or make our pain go away.  I know he’d do anything to change things if he could. He even tried by helping me look into the only thing that our resources could afford – foster care – and we were both pained to discover that it was not the right option of us either.

I’m now starting to see how badly he wanted us to have children together.  Over time, chinks in his armor are beginning to show.  Sitting in church when the pastor makes reference to his soon to be born daughter, I can both hear and feel him groan inwardly.  At the mall while viewing Christmas trees decorated with pictures and wishes of foster children, I see him choke up just slightly.   When tiny footsteps announce that the children have returned from children’s worship, we exchange sad smiles with each other. And when the inevitable cute baby or “we’re pregnant” commercial graces our television set, I see out of the corner of my eye him slowly extend a middle finger towards the screen if only to make me laugh.

Now that I’ve opened my eyes to these small and different expressions of his sadness and grief, I feel less alone in this journey.  I also feel terrible that I had not seen this in him earlier.  Being at odds with your spouse during this struggle makes the pain deeper for both of you.  I share this in hopes that someone who has experienced the pain of this perceived gap might also see the ways in which their partner also hurts.  After all, you are in this together.

Quasi-Momma (aka: Susan) 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.  

 

It Got Me Thinking…About The Meaning of Christmas December 25, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

For unto us a Child is born. (Isaiah 9:6)

As I heard these words in my umpteenth pre-Christmas service, my first thought was Pfft! Right. I mean, isn’t it bad enough that I have had to endure yet another holiday season being painfully aware of the lack of children in my life? And then at every turn I am reminded that we mark this holiday in celebration of a miraculous birth. Come on! This almost trumps Mother’s Day as the worst day of the year for those of us who are childfree-not-by-choice.

For reasons I still can’t completely articulate, this has been the hardest holiday season for me yet. After a boisterous Thanksgiving with a houseful of young nieces and nephews, I slipped into a depressed funk as I anticipated a painfully quiet December. I forced myself to listen to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (so cheery, I wanted to smack someone), I baked cookies and gave them away, I chose to hang lights and make the house festive for me, even though it seemed pointless and pathetic. Several times I considered giving in to the darkness, donating all my keepsake ornaments to Goodwill, and spending today in bed with a jug of mulled spiced wine.

Instead, in a moment of pure inspiration, I chose to get quiet and listen. I lit a candle and prayed for light. I cried out my hurts and losses to a god who has heard it all many times before and still comforts without judgment. Having released some of my grief, I took a deep breath and invited Cynical Me to take a well-earned holiday. Then I invited Holy Me to give me a new perspective. And here’s what she said:

It’s not about a miracle baby, Love. That’s just the symbol. It’s really about the miracle rebirth of hope and faith. 

Oh, my. That’s exactly the gift I needed this Christmas, I just didn’t know how to ask for it. With tears streaming down my face, I asked for forgiveness for my lack of trust. I felt humbled by the abundance of good gifts I do have in my life, and I expressed my gratitude to God who has great things planned for me and delivers in ways I could never have imagined.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season—whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Al-Hirjra, or a tradition of your own making—it would be what I have received myself: a renewed sense of hope, a heart full of love, and peace within.

May you experience unexpected blessings today, dear sisters.

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

 

That One Weird Childfree Holiday Card in the Stack December 20, 2012

 By Maybe Lady Liz

They’re starting to roll in. The waves of holiday cards featuring happy families festooned in matching red turtlenecks ‘round the tree or Canadian tuxedos on the beach. There will be some derivation of a toddler with his arms slung around Dad’s neck. Or Mom watching the kids play on a blanket. Or an Ann Geddes-esque shot of a newborn falling asleep on a reindeer’s back, adorned with nothing more than a tiny Santa hat. If you’re lucky, and your friends and family are deft enough with Snapfish, you’ll get ALL THREE in an artistically staggered arrangement.

And if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop yourself from comparing them to the cards you’ve sent out over the past few years. Maybe you’ve squeezed your cats into little elf outfits and reindeer antlers (and lost an arm in the process). Maybe you’ve posed with your spouse in front of some magnificent European landmark in a subconscious attempt to remind everyone how awesome it is that you have the freedom and cash to travel. Or maybe you’re like me and my husband, who always try to outdo ourselves every year in the clever department. Last year, we put photos of ourselves at age 6, side-by-side, each ripping into hilariously dated gifts, and titled it “Keep Christmas old-school.”

And in years past, when our friends would send just a ho-hum photo with a generic greeting, we were pretty proud of the fact that our card stood out from the pack and had a little personality. We used to tack it up on the half-wall in our kitchen with all the others and pat ourselves on the back. But as the years have gone by, our card has started to stand out for a very different reason. Instead of noticing the unique panache of our card, I’ve started to see what’s missing: a baby, of course. Kids on Santa’s lap, all that jazz.

I try not to let it happen, but I can’t help but look at my cards in a different light – through the eyes of those who are sending out the baby cards. All our attempts at being so clever probably seem silly, frivolous, immature, shallow, self-centered (words that sound familiar to anyone who actually chooses to be Childfree). They must seem like a stage that was supposed to be passed by now, but isn’t. No doubt they somehow seem…less than they’re supposed to be, to them.

I know, I know – it’s probably all in my head and these aren’t very Christmas-y thoughts. But fear not. I’ll keep the funny Childfree holiday cards rolling. Somebody’s gotta Keep Christmas Weird.

Merry%20Christmas%20from%20The%20Ferences

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 MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.

 

It Got Me Thinking…“The Good and the Brutal” December 18, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Aunt Kath….” My four-year-old nephew looked up at me with his big brown eyes, my sister’s eyes.

“Yes, love.”

“You know what I’m doing right now?”

“Nope. Tell me.”

“I’m pretending you’re my mommy.”

My heart swelled to three times its size before I felt like it was then ripped out of my chest. Choking back a sob, I said, “That’s so sweet. Thank you. Tell me….” But before I could ask him about this imaginary family of his, where he got the idea, what kind of mommy I was (funny, strict, a lot like his real mommy), he had moved on to a new topic, something to do with a game he likes to play at his preschool. Hours later, alone with my thoughts, I revisited this exchange and struggled to come to terms with what it did to me.

I’m not new to this conversation. This sweet boy is the youngest of six nieces and nephews, and each has gone through this phase of wanting to pretend I’m their mommy. Out to lunch or shopping with a niece (“Let’s pretend you’re my mom.”), playing in the park with a nephew (“Maybe they think you’re my mom.”). They’re all great kids, so I’m flattered and touched by their game. And they’re all great kids, so it also slays me emotionally. I would have loved being their mom.

I expected to grieve my losses, feel left out, and wrestle with difficult choices in the coming-to-terms-with-being-childfree dance. I just didn’t think that the same moments that fill my soul with unanticipated joy could also send me into new cycles of depression. Brutal, right?

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

 

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.

 

My Annual Test December 10, 2012

Christmas secretThere are several annual tests I take every year to monitor my physical health—eye test, teeth examination, PAP, blood sugar—but now that December is upon us, I’m preparing myself for the annual test of my emotional health—a visit from Santa.

Every year, the city where I live sends a noisy police escort to accompany a large motorized sleigh and the jolly old man in red himself. Every December, around this time, we hear the commotion of sirens and horns and assume there’s a criminal on the loose in the neighborhood, then one of us remembers, “Oh right, it’s Santa,” and dash outside to give him a wave.

I used to dread these visits. Even though there are approximately two children living on my block, hundreds (it seemed to me) would flood out of the woodwork to get a photo with Santa. I would hover on my doorstep, wanting to appear as if I was in the Christmas spirit, but finding myself slammed by the stark reality of my childlessness. I had no one to take to visit Santa, no excited hand to hold, and no commemorative photo for the scrapbook. I’d clutch my cat and kid myself that she was excited to see Santa (she was terrified) and I wouldn’t say anything at all to Mr. Fab in case he heard the crack in my voice or spotted one of the tears I was dripping into my poor kitty’s fur. Even just recalling those times makes the color drain from my face.

One year, my neighbor (in her 50’s) skipped up my front steps and said, “I want to have my picture taken with Santa; will you take me?” I did. She hopped up into the sleigh and grinned next to Santa. I have a copy of the photo and the sheer, unadulterated joy in her face makes me smile every time. My friend helped me to find a different kind of joy in this otherwise trying event.

Every year since then Santa’s annual visit has become easier and I’ve started using it as a gauge to see how I’m doing. It’s my annual test of my emotional wellbeing and my healing progress.

It’s December 10th already, so I’m expecting to take the test any day now. The good news is that this year I think I’m going to pass with flying colors.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Being Happier December 4, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Another childfree friend just sent me this link to a brief article titled “Sex and Alcohol Make You Happier Than Kids and Religion, Study Says.” According to researchers in New Zealand, “caring for kids” came in at #5 on the happiness-making scale.

I’d like to think there’s some truth to this, since it certainly offers more promise for my life. And it got me thinking about things that I do (in addition to having sex and drinking) that make me happy. Things such as losing myself in a great book, playing with my dog, laughing my head off at a silly movie, and lingering over a meal with friends.

What do you think? Would they get the same rankings in your corner of the world? And, most important, what makes you happy?

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

 

Around the Blogosphere November 30, 2012

I’ve been hanging around out in the blogosphere lately and decided to bring to you a few things I found this week.

Challenged with writing about a life-changing moment, IVF Male shared a poignant post about infertility’s long series of life-changing moments in “Staring Down the Infertility Train.”

Mali celebrated the two-year anniversary of her wonderful blog at No Kidding in NZ.

On The Road Less Travelled, Loribeth writes about a different kind of anniversary­—what would have been her daughter’s 14th birthday—and the milestones she won’t get to celebrate.

And Pamela, at Silent Sorority, stuck her tongue firmly in her cheek and provided the facts to back up a theory many of us have probably considered, that perhaps we’re just too evolved to reproduce.

And from me, I’m just wishing you a Happy Friday and a great weekend.

 

And They All Lived Happily Ever After…With Kids, Of Course November 29, 2012

 By Maybe Lady Liz

Last night, I finally saw the 1987 Coen brothers’ cult classic, Raising Arizona. For those of you who, like me, have been living under a rock for the past twenty-five years and haven’t seen it, the first hour and forty-two minutes are pretty solidly hilarious, and I highly recommend them. But (spoiler alert!), as someone who may not ever have kids, it’s the final two minutes of the movie that really ruined things for me.

Career criminal H.I. “Hi” McDonnough (played by Nicholas Cage) decides to walk the straight and narrow when he falls for a local policewoman, Edwina “Ed”. They marry quickly and Ed’s biological clock moves into full swing. After months of trying for a child, Ed is devastated when her doctor tells her she’s infertile. Knowing they’d never be able to adopt with Hi’s checkered past, they cook up a scheme to kidnap one of a furniture magnate’s newborn quintuplets. Hilarity ensues, of course, as the two of them navigate the challenges of a new baby and explaining just how they were able to adopt so quickly. Eventually, Hi’s past comes back to bite him as the baby is “re-kidnapped” by two of his recently-escaped cell mates. In their desperate chase to get the little guy back, Ed realizes that their original kidnapping was a horrible thing to do to a mother, and they return the baby to his parents.

But by this point, Ed and Hi’s marriage is pretty far deteriorated. Ed begins to think it was a bad match from the beginning and says she wants a divorce. But upon returning the baby, the furniture magnate (miraculously not angry at them) encourages her to sleep on it and not make any rash decisions. In Hi’s dream that night, which comprises the aforementioned final two minutes of the movie, he envisions a rosy future for him and Ed. Given the reality of their situation, you might think it would have been the two of them overcoming their differences and going on all kinds of exciting adventures or just enjoying each other’s company. But no. It was a rather cheesy montage that showcased nothing more than a parade of children and grandchildren running and out of their house, or sitting around a huge dining room table.

What’s the message here? That there’s really only one happy ending in life, and it must involve kids? I know I’m viewing the movie from a biased standpoint, and I’m reading far too much into it, but the implication seemed to be that despite all their marital problems, their lives might still turn out okay…as long as they’re somehow able to have children.

I should probably cut the Coen brothers some slack. After all, this was twenty-five years ago, when the term Childfree was still spelled with a lowercase “c” and people had a harder time imagining a rich, fulfilling life without kids. But, like so many other elements of pop culture, it was just a grating reminder that for most, a life without babies just doesn’t lend itself to that Hollywood storybook ending. I suppose those of us who wind up not having kids will just have to make sure we create our own happily ever afters.

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 MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About the Story Time November 27, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I am going to be a “mystery reader”! This is nothing like a mystery shopper, someone who goes into a store, shops a bit, then rates the service. Instead, I am the mystery. On a given day, after tantalizing clues about my identity have been revealed, I will surprise my 6-year-old nephew when I show up to read a story to him and his fellow first-graders.

I about leapt out of my chair when I read the invitation my sister forwarded from the teacher to aunts and uncles, grandparents, and special friends. “I AM SO IN!!!!” I replied. I love reading to my nieces and nephews. Bedtime stories with friendly monsters, fairytales with happy endings, wild yarns that tickle the imagination; hand me any book and we’ll read it together. Before I moved closer to them, I even checked out books from the children’s section of the library, made up silly voices for each of the characters, and read to them over the phone.

My date isn’t until after the new year, but I immediately started thinking about my selection. Make Way for Ducklings is a personal favorite from my childhood. I regularly give Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too as shower and first birthday gifts. Dr. Seuss, wild rumpusses, Shel Silverstein, the many adventures of Winnie the Pooh…and then it hit me. I’ve been giving these beloved books as gifts for years, but I don’t have any of them on my own shelves.

Dangitall! I always assumed I’d have a shelf full of children’s storybooks, and I imagined how I would teach little ones how to read then sit in awe as they discovered the joys of reading for themselves. I looked forward to becoming reacquainted with my favorite characters, experiencing precious stories through a grown-up perspective, and appreciating anew the artistry that goes into creating them. I’ve been making such good progress in coming-to-terms with my childfree status that I didn’t see this left hook coming. Like with so many of our experiences as childfree women, something that made me so happy also makes me so very sad.

I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and pick a story that I think will be fun for everyone. It’s no mystery that I’m going to savor every moment I have with my wee audience. Meanwhile, I tip my hat to the thoughtful teacher who came up with the mystery reader program and is giving me the opportunity, just for one morning, to live in my fantasy world.

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