Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Self-Awareness October 23, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My friend Kim* is an amazing pediatric dentist. Not only is she highly skilled, but she is passionate about what she feels is her calling. I have always admired her and, quite honestly, have at times been envious as I see her in action, see how her patients l-o-v-e her, see how energized she is by her work. In fact, it doesn’t seem appropriate to call it “work” because she glows when she is in her element and even outside when she talks about it.

So I was stunned during a recent catching-up phone call when she announced she was letting go of her practice.

“What?! Why?”

“It sucks the life out of me, it’s just takes too much energy, I’m exhausted,” she said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, but that wasn’t entirely what I was thinking. See, Kim now also has a one-year-old daughter. Her job hadn’t changed. She’d never found it life-sucking before, quite the contrary. No, it is being a parent that is sapping her energy and making her too tired to continue to enjoy her job. I was saddened to hear that she was choosing to sacrifice her first great love, and also to hear that she was misplacing the blame.

But while I was quick to judge, once I took a step back and looked at the big picture, what I felt was compassion. I realized this was perhaps her way—consciously or unconsciously—of making peace with her sacrifice in her own mind. I do the same thing when people ask me why I don’t want kids and I respond by joking that my dogs take all the parenting urges out of me. Oh, I wanted kids, but I didn’t get to have them, and rather than have a complete meltdown in public, I deliver a half-baked “excuse.” I could easily imagine myself telling one of those strangers, “I just don’t have the energy to be a parent” versus revealing the real and painful reasons for my childfreeness.

When I think about it from my heart, I realize Kim and I aren’t all that different. We’ve both lost something we wanted, we’ve both sacrificed big dreams, and we’ve both lied to ourselves in an effort to salve the wounds. It makes me think that if we could be more honest with ourselves, and if we could then better communicate our real feelings with each other, there would be a smaller divide between the moms and non-moms.

We’re all women, doing the best we can with the paths we’ve been given. I hope that by being aware of this, the next time I am at the receiving end of a half-truth, I will bypass judgment and instead model understanding and compassion.

*Her name and details have been changed to protect her privacy.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About High Drama Season October 16, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

In the U.S., we’re all caught up in drama, controversy, glamour, and intrigue. Whether you follow the election season or the Oscar season, things get pretty heated and competitive around here.

I hadn’t thought about the two in the same breath until last year when I recommended a great movie to my parents, a compelling drama that starred one of our most popular leading men. “We don’t support his films,” my father informed me, “because we don’t like his politics.”

What the fruitcake?! Unless we’re talking about some slanted documentary, one has nothing to do with the other. That’s just crazy talk! (Sorry, Dad.) I mean, let’s take this to the (even more) extreme. That’s like choosing a loaf of bread based on the color of its wrapper. Or buying a car based on who has the most entertaining TV commercial. (I’ll take good gas mileage and reliability over 30 seconds of giggles any day.) Or recommending my drycleaner solely because he’s childfree.

And there we have it. I have no idea whether or not my drycleaner is married, has children, or lives with a mannequin dressed like his mother (which, granted, would be psycho). I recommend him because he works miracles for me and he is a genuinely nice guy. I go to movies because they transport me out of my everyday cares, they delight and inspire me. I vote for elected officials because I believe they will do the right things to make our city/country/world a better place.

This in part explains why I’m so sick and tired of having parenthood thrust upon me in political speeches (“Mom-in-Chief”) and celebrity tabloids (“How [Star of New Movie] Got Back Her Pre-Baby Bikini Body!”). I don’t care. For me, it’s less about who you are and more about what you do. When politicians and magazine marketing departments cater only to the parents, they are essentially telling me, one of the childfree people, “Your contributions and concerns aren’t as important.” And that’s not just crazy talk, that’s ignorance at its worst.

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

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Why I Can’t Grieve October 9, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

It’s impossible to put on mascara when you can’t stop crying.

I learned this little truism the day after we put our sweet 14-year-old dog to sleep. I’d spent the day intermittently sobbing and whimpering—set off by her empty bowl, her favorite spot in my office, now vacant, and tiny reminders of my everyday companion. I had pushed off most work-related tasks, but still had to pull myself together for an evening event I needed to attend. With a lot of deep breathing, as well as promises to myself that I could continue crying my eyes out later, I managed to make myself presentable.

I’m not new to devastating losses. Almost daily, I still think of the best friend who died tragically when she was just 20, my beloved grandmother and “hot date” for movies who passed in 1993, and my father-in-law who left us 914 days ago. But the outpouring of emotions I experienced after losing Scout was a new breed of grief. Guilt, gratitude, longing, regret, relief, loneliness, heartache. At times it consumed me, as, I think, it should. And that got me thinking….

As a woman who is childfree by circumstances, I have never fully grieved the loss of my dream of motherhood. For 25 years or so, I’ve been in this crazy dance between longing and hoping, praying and wishing, denial, regret, jealousy, despair, having faith and losing faith. I used to beg God for a neon sign—seriously—a message so clear that said either “You will have children, so stick it out!” or “You aren’t going to have children. Get on with your life!” And the years went by. And the years went by. And here I am. I am 46 years old, childfree by circumstance (don’t you dare accuse me of making a “choice”), and I describe myself as “mostly at peace” with my status. But there are days when I still think “What if….”

I won’t trivialize the pain of our sisters who are childfree by infertility. I’ve held too many friends and sobbed with them over miscarriages, failed IVF treatments, and the loss of their dreams, and I know too well that their paths are filled with heartbreak. But because LWB is a place where we can safely share our deepest hurts, please allow me to say that there are times when I’ve envied their ability to grieve. My friends had defining moments when they could let it all out, when they could ask for support, when support was offered even when it was not asked for. Think of my journey like the quiet drip-drip of a faucet; it’s imperceptible, so no one calls in the plumber, but over time it causes the same amount of catastrophic damage as a flood. I have never had a moment of finality, never experienced that intense period of grief, and on some very deep and possibly damaged level, I wish I could.

Selfish? Perhaps. But hear me out. I know that grieving is necessary. The sobbing period winds down, you put your experiences into perspective, and then you move on. For I so would like to be able to move on. I want to embrace this path I’ve been given and find new purpose in my life. I’d like to feel that the wanderings of my childbearing years were not just wasted time. And I fear that, if I skip past the crucial grieving phase, I’ll never get to the phase of accepting and, ultimately, to that day when I can feel content with my circumstances.

P.S. Grief is a topic we’re addressing head-on here at LWB. If you are feeling stuck, consider signing up for the upcoming LWB Mentoring Program that starts this evening. You’ll find more information here.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s wrapping up a memoir about her journey to coming to peace with being childfree (and clearly it’s a work in progress).

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Our Future Together October 2, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Your Future Together: Health Information You Need to Know.”

When my husband-to-be and I went to city hall to get our marriage license, we left with a small stack of papers, including a booklet with the above title. Curious, I opened it in the car and flipped through the pages. “Living a Healthy Lifestyle” was introduced on page 1, with recommendations for regular check-ups and exercise, a balanced diet, and up-to-date immunizations. Brief sections explaining the warning signs and resources for victims of domestic violence and HIV/AIDs followed. All this got me up to page 14. The remaining 34 pages are all about—you guessed it—family planning, pregnancy, and healthcare for babies.

There are resources listed for where to get genetic counseling, two full pages on the importance of increasing folic acid intake, and tips on things such as “Have someone else change the cat litter box daily” when you’re expecting. But no where—no where!—is there any mention of infertility, IVF, adoption, or the childfree option. Wait, I need to amend that. On page 16, there’s a list of family planning services available to eligible, low-income couples. Bullet number 4 reads: “Limited infertility and cancer screening services.”

I assumed this pamphlet must be way out-of-date, but the copyright is 2010, and the legal notation on the back indicates it must be distributed to all marriage license applicants. If that’s the case, I’d like to add some new sections to the 2012 edition, sections that address questions such as:

How long should we try to conceive the old-fashioned way before seeking professional help? What is the process for adopting a child? As a gay couple, how do we protect our parental rights? Who offers counseling when our dreams of having children are crushed? Can we have a happy and healthy marriage as a family of two?

I think someone needs to let city hall know that there’s a lot more information we need to know.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She—and her husband—have chosen to be childfree.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Kids on Planes (part II) September 25, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

A second airline has added a childfree “Quiet Zone” and the debate continues! Read the news here.

Asia Air has announced this new service, available for a fee in 2013, and I learned of it in a “mommy” column in my city’s newspaper’s online site. Normally I wouldn’t read anything with “mommy” in it, and I almost never read the comments (usually so snarky), but I couldn’t resist seeing how this cause was faring. And guess what? It’s getting more support!

What do you think? How much extra would you pay for a seat in the Quiet Zone?

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

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Common Courtesies September 18, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Is it just me, or has the world gone rude? I am so over boorish behavior, when it is really so easy to be polite with each other—not measure-the-distance-between-forks etiquette, but simple common courtesies we can employ to be kind and respectful of each other. Here are some of my suggestions, based on recent experiences, for how we might start:

        • If someone takes the time to determine, shop for, and give you a thoughtful gift, you can spend five minutes writing a thank you note. (A text message does not count.)
        • If a driver slows and allows you to change lanes in front of him, give a courtesy wave. (Better yet, start the exchange by first turning on your turn signal.)
        • If someone nearby—a stranger or friend—sneezes, say “Bless you.” If someone—a stranger or friend—holds a door open for you, say “Thank you.”
        • If your phone rings at the dinner table (or at the gym, in the library, during a meeting), apologize to the people around you for the interruption. If it’s urgent, excuse yourself and take it outside where your conversation won’t bother anyone else. If not, turn the dang thing off and check your messages later.
        • If you ask someone “Do you have children?” and s/he says, “No,” change the subject.

Feel free to add your suggestions in comments, and let’s all make an extra effort to be kinder to each other today.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is adamant that she will never give her baby names to her dogs.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Excluding Others September 11, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I have many friends who have gone through the Alcohol Anonymous (AA) program, and I admire them greatly for how they have turned their lives around and live into their new commitments every day. But I have to admit, as I sit here planning my next dinner party, in which my famous sangria will be prominently featured, I am hesitant to include two friends who are recovering alcoholics. I worry that they’ll be uncomfortable. I worry they’ll make the other guests self-conscious. I worry they simply won’t fit in.

Ooops! Did I really think that? What a hypocrite I am!

Recently, Maybe Baby Liz wrote on this site (“Locked Out of the Mommy Clubhouse,” July 5) about her first experience of being left out of a dinner party because she is the lone childfree friend among all the mommies. Your comments attested to what I know, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of us have shared our painful experiences of being excluded from social gatherings (and even family get-togethers) because we are childfree. While I am commiserating, I’m also starting to face myself in the mirror. Have I excluded pregnant friends because I just couldn’t bear to be around them while dealing with my own loss? Have I excluded parents of young children because I just couldn’t take another night of listening to them talk about schools and sports programs and teething issues, a discussion I can’t participate in?

I know there aren’t easy answers. I know we can’t deny our own pain, and it also isn’t right to force ourselves to sit through a long evening that causes us to go home and drown our sorrows in a pint of chocolate-fudge-ripple ice cream. I also know that even when we make the effort to include our mommy friends, oftentimes we’re the ones who end up being excluded from the conversation around us. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. That doesn’t mean we don’t still make the efforts to reach out and support our friends no matter where they are on their life paths—or where those paths are headed.

The bottom line for me is I care about my friends and I want to spend time with them. I will be upfront with them about the sangria, I will make sure they know there will also be booze-free options available, and then I’ll let them decide if they want to come. If not, I’ll suggest we get together another time, maybe for brunch with really great coffee.

Because this is what friends do. We commiserate, we support, we show compassion. We reach out and embrace each other and we try to build bridges of understanding. It can start with us.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.

 

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.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Wit August 28, 2012

This post was originally published on September 27, 2011.

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

This morning, still brooding over yesterday’s failings and anticipating today’s regrets, I felt the need for something stronger than my book of affirmations to get me going. So, as I lingered in bed, I reached under my nightstand and pulled out The Portable Dorothy Parker.

It’s been several years since I’ve shared the company of the legendary wit who gave us “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” and “Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses”…and I’ve missed her. As I skimmed some of her poems, I started to smile. Soon I was giggling. I laughed out loud when I landed on the quip that reminded me, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

So often I wake up steeled to take life so very seriously. I have roles and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled. I have bills to pay, decisions to make, dogs to feed, and schedules to plan. Sometimes the way I cheat and deprive myself in the daily quest to respond to all the “shoulds” gets so overwhelmingly depressing that I end up doing next to nothing and feeling like a worthless slug.

Ms. Parker had a few thoughts about this in her poem “Observation:”

If I don’t drive around the park,

I’m pretty sure to make my mark.

If I’m in bed each night by ten,

I may get back my looks again.

If I sustain from fun and such,

I’ll probably amount to much;

But I shall stay the way I am,

Because I do not give a damn.

That was just the inspiration I needed. I threw off the bed covers and marched purposely toward a refreshingly hot shower, vowing to ditch some of the day’s shoulds and go in search of more giggles. I hope to end the day with a better awareness of the absurdities of life, with a new perspective that will help me reorder the priorities on my to do list. It’s likely I won’t get everything done that needs to be done, but just for today, I choose to not give a damn.

Like Ms. Parker, Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a childfree freelance writer. 

 

It Got Me Thinking…About the Dark Side August 21, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

This post was originally published on July 18, 2011

“I’m pregnant!” my friend gleefully announces.

And I think, Well, f*ck me six ways to Sunday, but I instead I jump up and embrace her and say, “Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you!”

Yup, another one has gone over to the Dark Side. My playmate, my buddy, my date for tea and chick-flicks will soon switch discussion topics from the last great novel she read to the merits of cloth versus disposable diapers and the challenges of getting into the “right” preschool/private school/ballet studio. While I bravely continue to pursue political movements, investing options, and the hottest new tapas restaurant this side of the Bay, she’ll be focusing on PTA politics, college funds, and how to get her kid to eat green vegetables.

Before long, the excuses for missing lunch dates (sick baby, sick kid, soccer games) will grow tiresome. She’ll kindly include me in the first few get-togethers with her new friends from the mommies group. I’ll make polite conversation when I’m invited to baby showers and first birthday parties. But eventually I’ll get lost in the mist as she gets sucked into more and more “family” events and senses how much more she has in common with the other reproducers. “Whatever happened to your friend Kathy?” they might ask. “Oh, she never had kids.” “Oh,” they will say knowingly. Or so I imagine. This is worse than being the last kid picked for teams. This is being told you can’t even play the game, but if you want, you can watch from the bleachers.

And I’m pissed. But mostly I’m lonely. It’s really, really hard to make new friends when you’re over the age of 40, and it’s that much harder when, like me, you leave the city you’ve lived in for those first four decades and move some place where you know no one but your fiancé. You have to make a determined effort to get out, try new classes, start new groups, and hope to find a connection. It’s not unlike dating, and it can be really exciting, but mostly scary and discouraging. But you carry on, remembering the closeness you once shared with old friends who, over time, could read your thoughts and finish your sentences.

Since moving here three years ago, several of the women who I thought could become part of my new posse now are new mothers. I didn’t know they were trying; we hadn’t known each other that long, so the topic never came up. A couple had been trying for years, and became pregnant shortly after meeting me. My friend Lisa found this hilarious and suggested I offer myself out as a fertility icon: Become friends with me, and you’ll be knocked up within 3 months—guaranteed!

After the fourth announcement, I broke down and told my fiancé how crushed I was, how broken-hearted, how devastating this was to my developing social life. He laughed at me, pointing out how ridiculous I sounded for getting so overly dramatic and self-pitying. And he’s right. Because, really, I am happy for my friends. And it won’t be as isolating as I imagine, it will just be different.

When I get the “good” news, when I sink into one of my funks, I fully realize that I am the one who has gone over to the Dark Side. But for a short while, I need to lose my perspective and my sense of humor, wallow in self-pity, and mourn the loss of my friend. Because underneath my happiness for her, I still hurt for myself.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. It’s raining today, and she’s feeling blue.