Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Catalogues November 20, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I can’t even remember what it was that I ordered, but at some point in the last couple of years I purchased a gift online for a niece or nephew, and BAM! Now I’m on everyone’s mailing list.

By everyone, I mean every company that makes stuff for kids—bedding, clothing, toys, gear—and as we rev up for holiday shopping, I’m getting catalogues from all of them. Cute kids in Santa-themed PJs, cute kids playing with cute dogs while cute parents look on with pride and joy, cute kids who are healthy and happy. Just shoot me now! The promotional flyer that really put me over the edge was for organizational systems especially for parents. I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to do (I couldn’t quite bring myself to look at the Web site), but maybe I don’t understand it because I’m not a parent. Whatever!

You know, I also buy my fair share of chocolate. You’d think I’d be inundated by catalogues brimming with sweet things for me, but noooooo.

Say it with me: The Holiday Season Sucks!

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

 

It Got Me Thinking…About My Letter to the President November 13, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Dear Mr. Obama,

I voted for you. Twice. And last night I stayed up well past my bedtime in anticipation of hearing your acceptance speech. I was glued to the TV, watched the projections on several channels, and toasted the success of your campaign. Finally you came on and addressed us all. Or so I thought.

You shared a story about meeting a family in Mentor, Ohio, that risked losing everything to provide for their 8-year-old daughter who was fighting leukemia. Fortunately, health care reform allowed for their insurance coverage to continue. (Amen, by the way.) “I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his,” you said, “and when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes.”

Mr. President, when did compassion become the domain of parents? I am a childless woman, yet I had tears in my eyes when I heard about this family because I have walked this walk with friends, coworkers, and family members. Just because I haven’t birthed or adopted a child doesn’t mean I have no heart. In fact, quite often when a friend has been in crisis, I and other childless friends have been the ones to step up and help—financially, emotionally, physically—because we do not have the responsibilities and time commitments of people who have chosen to be parents.

In a campaign, I know how easy it is to fall into preaching to your constituents, and I suppose that’s why we hear so much about family values. It certainly was a hot topic throughout this last campaign season. Yet I ask you to consider that families come in many sizes and descriptions: mixed race, two moms, two dads, single parents, childless, and single people who create family among friends. We are all compassionate, not because we are parents, but because we are human. And guess what else, we all vote.

Wishing you much success in your new term. God bless all of America!

Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status, but sometimes she gets a little riled up.