Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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.

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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.

 

Maybe Baby, Maybe Not: What’s in a Name? October 4, 2012

You Seinfeld fans out there might remember an episode where George revealed that he had always wanted to name his first child “Seven” after Mickey Mantel’s jersey number. When his wife, Susan, tells her expectant cousin, Carrie, of George’s plan, Carrie becomes enamored with the name and “steals” it for her own child – much to George’s dismay. It’s a ridiculous storyline, but like every great Seinfeld script, it’s rooted in the truth of crazy we become over such silly things.

So what is it about baby names that makes us all go a little insane? Even without knowing whether I wanted kids or not, I’ve kept a list of names I loved in a journal for as long as I could remember. That list is now more than a decade old, and I still get a little annoyed when someone I know has a child and takes one of them. I’ve watched Penelope, Ava, Maximilian and Lucas go down the drain for me in the last year alone. And each one seems like some chance that’s just slipping by me.

Maybe it’s because naming another human being is a pretty monumentally important task, and you hold all the power in making the decision. You may not be able to control whether you have a boy or girl (unless you want to pay a few thousand dollars for gender selection), what kind of temperament they’ll have, or what career they choose. But by gum, you can decide what people will call them for the rest of their life!

Maybe it’s wanting to grab a piece of the mystery. Parents-to-be seem to be keeping their baby names pretty close to the vest these days. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want anyone to talk them out of it or taint it for them by saying they, “I went to school with a [insert name] and he was a complete jerk.”, But sometimes it seems like it’s all just part of whipping up this dramatic froth for the big reveal in the birth announcement.

Or maybe there’s less sinister forces at work, like a desire to honor a grandparent or use an old family name. I’ve always loved the idea of having a boy named Hayes to keep my mother’s maiden name alive. And I can only imagine the look on her face if I told her that her grandson was going to carry on her family name; she’d be so blown away and touched. If I don’t have kids, I’ll never be able to make that grand gesture.

And what are those of us without babies to do with all our dream names? Yes, we can use them on our pets. But little Wolfgang (“Wolfie”) is so much funnier on a human than on an Alaska Malamute, and would make no sense whatsoever for a Calico. I suppose I’ll just keep crossing names off the list and try to be happy that my friends have had such good taste in naming their kids. Or maybe I’ll be like George, chasing them through the maternity ward corridors, trying up until the very last minute to wrestle the name back. That does seem the more likely scenario.

 

Maybe Baby, Maybe Not: Elusive “Congratulations” September 6, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to the Orange County fair, and he became unaccountably obsessed with the idea of adopting a pygmy goat. For those of you who haven’t seen one, it’s arguably the cutest animal on the planet. But, well – it’s a goat. And we live in a small condo in Southern California. None the less, it became an amusing topic of conversation between us and his sister who was along for the ride.

As a joke, she sent us a photo of goat’s milk on Facebook and I commented that she shouldn’t give my husband any more encouragement with regards to our “little girl” because he’d decided he wanted it to be a girl. Someone who didn’t look closely at the photo and doesn’t know us all that well misinterpreted the conversation and commented, “Drew is having a baby?!” It was immediately “liked” and commented on by several people, and I got my very first (albeit false) taste of the accolades heaped on those who are expecting a child.

I got to feel what it’s like for people to be genuinely excited about something you’ve done, and be really, really happy for you. It felt…amazing! For a couple of seconds. Until I remembered this was all based on a misunderstanding. But I was really struck by how it gave me such a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that people would be so over the moon if we had a kid. I know it’s downright silly, but hey – we can’t always control our feelings.

I also know that getting pregnant isn’t the only thing you can do where people will express their congratulations and excitement. But it sure does seem to be the one thing that generates the MOST excitement and the MOST accolades. I feel like if I ever finish my book (which I think may actually wind up being more painful than labor) and sold it to some fabulous publisher, that status update wouldn’t garner even half the likes of one saying “I’m pregnant!”, despite the fact that anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been writing for years and would die of happiness if I ever published a book.

Some may dismiss this all as silly Facebook politicking. And on some level, it is. But it’s also a microcosm for how society really feels about things. If baby announcements are the things that excite you most on Facebook, they’re probably the things that excite you most in real life. Calling to tell my mom I was pregnant would likely result in a burst of (happy) tears, while delivering some news about a promotion at work or buying our first house would probably earn me a heartfelt, but decidedly less emotional, congrats. Not because my mom is desperate to become a grandmother or doesn’t care about my career, but because babies generate more emotions. They just do.

Some others would question why I care so much about whether people are happy for me, and would encourage me to pursue my non-baby-related goals for my own personal satisfaction. That’s all well and good, and of course, that’s the route I’ll go. I just sort of wish I hadn’t gotten a taste of what it felt like to be on the other side.

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.

 

How Does Your Company Define Family? August 9, 2012

This post was originally published on May 3, 2012.

By Maybe Lady Liz

In my B.B. life (Before Blog), I worked in Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company. Part of my job was communicating our benefits package to employees, prospective employees, and surveys like the Top 100 Companies to Work For. The magic words to get ourselves on that Top 100 list and snag potential new hires? Family friendly.

Sounds nice, huh? Brings to mind things like flex time, telecommuting, and additional days off. And these are all true. For parents. Flex time means you can leave early to pick your kids up from school. Telecommuting means it’s not a problem for you to work from home when your child has a runny nose. And additional days off means two days off each year for employees to attend their child’s school-related activities.

Of course, there’s nothing in the fine print that says these benefits are exclusive to parents. But try asking your boss to stay home because your husband has a sore throat, or to leave early for a romantic dinner out and compare that to the reaction a mom receives when she asks to come in late to attend her kid’s award ceremony. Parents who take time off for these activities are revered for their family values – and typically aren’t expected to make it up. Those without kids who try to access the same perks are dubbed lazy and irresponsible, despite the fact they spend much of their time covering the workload for (some, not all) missing-in-action parents.

So why do they call these benefits family friendly when they don’t encompass all types of families? The nice snappy sound of alliteration? People do love alliteration. But no, I think it’s that people don’t really associate the word family with a childless/free couple. With 20% of women aged 45 not having kids, isn’t it time we re-evaluate the definition of that word and start structuring our benefits programs accordingly?

Most of us work pretty hard at some pretty stressful jobs. Those of us with only one or two weeks of vacation could really use an additional day off now and then to feel like our jobs haven’t completely consumed our lives. Parents take that opportunity on a regular basis, to say nothing of the six weeks – several months mothers take off for the birth of each child. Childfree/less women have a special challenge to ensure they find meaning in their lives through something other than the built-in mission of motherhood. Some find it through their careers, but for those who don’t, shouldn’t they be afforded the same rights as parents to pursue the things most meaningful to them?

It’s not all bad news – there are some progressive companies out there offering ala carte benefits options to employees that ensure single or childfree/less employees get an equal slice of the benefits pie, and aren’t stuck subsidizing the cost of other people’s children’s insurance. But I imagine we’re still a long ways away from the Fortune 500 shifting their views on the definition of a real family.

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 Maybe Baby, Maybe Not.

 

Locked Out of the Mommy Clubhouse July 5, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

Last week, I texted one of my girlfriends, trying to throw together a last minute Sunday night dinner with her and her husband. When she responded that they already had dinner plans with two of our other friends, but that we were “welcome to tag along”, I was a little taken aback. I couldn’t imagine why we hadn’t been included in the first place, until later that night when I saw some inside joke exchanges on Facebook about chromosomes. My girlfriend was newly pregnant, and I realized she’d reached out to the other pregnant woman in our group, because she wanted to spend time with someone who was going through the same experience.

It was my first glimpse of being locked out of the Mommy Clubhouse. Up until now, it had always been the other way around. My group was still very active, going out every weekend, and the first person to get pregnant in our group had been the one left at home. Now that more and more of them are starting to have babies, I’m realizing that my husband and I may be the ones left home alone while everyone else attends each other’s kids’ birthday parties, mommy yoga classes or family-friendly barbeques.

Parents seem to have this glamorized picture of the Childfree as partying every weekend night till the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping off our hangovers all day long on Sunday. Admittedly, part of the reason they have this image is because it’s the one being loudly and proudly portrayed on the Childfree blogs and forums. But that’s not really what I’m after. All I want is to be able to spend time with my friends. If that means tame dinners in, or board game nights in lieu of clubbing, I’m all for it. It just hadn’t occurred to me until last week that we might be excluded because they think we don’t want to give up the bar scene. Or worse, that we no longer fit in.

I don’t begrudge my friends the lack of an invite to their dinner. They’re sharing a life-altering experience together and some bonding is bound to take place that we can’t really participate in. And of course, it’s only natural that certain members of a group have smaller gatherings from time to time – everyone can’t be invited to everything. What scared me was not knowing if this was a one-off, or just the tip of the lonely weekend iceberg.

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 http://www.MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.

 

Guest Post: Outrageously Boring Birth Announcements June 7, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

Remember when we used to get a real piece mail that wasn’t selling us something? It’s so rare nowadays that the handwritten address peeking out amidst all the junk actually makes my heart flutter a little.  Maybe it’s a letter from an old flame, fifty bucks from Grandma who’s senile and thinks it might be your birthday, or an invitation to a party in your honor for some fabulous thing you don’t even remember doing. But no, it can really be only one of two things: a wedding invitation or a birth announcement.

A wedding invitation is cause for excitement. Once you get over the annoyance of being addressed as Mrs. Husband’s First Name/Husband’s Last Name (my first name is not Mrs. Drew, thank you very much!), you have the opportunity to peruse the various invites, cards, return envelopes and that little wisp of tissue that no one ever knows what to do with. You get to judge them on color choices and menu options, decipher whether or not there will be a full open bar or just beer and wine, get miffed about not being invited to the rehearsal dinner. In short, there’s lots of good stuff in there.

But the birth announcement? Without fail, this is the same boring 4 x 6 Snapfish card. A montage of black and white close-ups and a list of stats: name, date and time of birth, inches, pounds, and ounces. I don’t mean to be rude here, but I’m genuinely curious – why on earth does anyone care how many ounces a baby was, other than the poor woman who had to push it out? It would be so much nicer to actually get an interesting piece of news here, maybe hear something about the parents. How many hours was Mom in labor, did Dad make a fool of himself and faint in the delivery room, etc.? Or at least something more interesting about the baby – how did they pick the name or what does it mean? Since baby names these days are more closely guarded than federal secrets, it’d be nice to finally hear how they chose.

All of this could come in a nice little note on the back and would reignite everyone’s excitement on getting a solid piece of paper news about friends and family. I might even start saving them in a little drawer. But if I keep getting the same old thing, I’ll probably just continue throwing them in the trash and later feeling very bad about having to toss a pile of coffee grounds or banana peel on a baby’s face.

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 Maybe Baby, Maybe Not.