Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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.

 

You’re Not Alone November 15, 2012

Last month I announced the Great Life Without Baby Makeover and asked, “If you wandered onto a site that was exactly what you’d been looking for, what would you find there?”

You responded with some great suggestions and I’m working to implement those ideas as best I can.

Several of you mentioned how much you enjoy the Guest Bloggers, how refreshing it is to hear new voices, and how reassured you feel by knowing you’re not the only person going through this mess.

Andrea suggested a new “You’re Not Alone” column, featuring readers’ “own stories of fall, personal suffering, and acceptance: of slowly getting back up.”

I love this idea, so I’m putting out a call right now.

“Tell us your stories!”

Here are some suggestions to start you thinking:

What do you wish you could tell people?

What was your darkest moment?

What turned things around for you?

What made a difference?

How did you start coming to terms?

How do you see your future?

What’s the silver lining you never could have imagined?

Your story doesn’t have to include all of these—or even any of these. I’m just using these as prompts to light a creative spark.

And if you’re thinking “I’m not a writer; I can’t do this” banish those thoughts right now. Storytelling is a basic human instinct. It’s how we learn and how we share information. Don’t overthink it; it’s in your bones. Just tell us; we’ll appreciate it because many of us will have lived it too.

So, put on your thinking caps and send me your stories. You can email them right to my inbox at: lisa [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

I can’t wait to hear from you.

 

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.

 

Guest Post: Child-Tinted Glasses November 8, 2012

By The One Hand Man

I had a boss once who was married, very successful, but childless. When questioned about his lack of offspring he shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn’t for him.

Not understanding him at the time, I viewed him as someone who didn’t want that ‘completion’ in his life.

Knowing what I do now, I would probably have kept my mouth shut.

It is, as I understand it, a natural feeling to desire your own children. So does that mean it is ‘unnatural’ not to want them?… I should think not.

If you put a spreadsheet together of pros and cons of having children, I reckon the cons would outweigh the pros about five to one, so it is perhaps more natural not to want your own kids.

For me, the thought of going through the pearly gates without even trying is not something I can face, but having struggled with infertility and IVF, I am familiar with the sympathetic stares of child bearing parents, especially when my wife and I rock up to children’s parties and the like without any kids of our own.

I have had three years of batting off the obligatory “so no Kids yet then?” remarks, I can only imagine the frustration of those who never have children – a lifetime of explaining themselves when they really shouldn’t have to.

The pressures of having children (or not) can become immense, and with feet being put in mouths left, right and centre, I have quickly learned not to judge or assume anything about individuals and couples without children.

Some can’t have them, some don’t want them, but what business is that of ours?

The One Hand Man: Married in 07, sperm test in 08, IVF in 09, another sperm test in 10, adoption started in 11 – still going through the adoption process. Not had any recent sperm tests. Read more at: www.theonehandman.co.uk

 

Whiny Wednesday: Cell Phones November 7, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

A local yoga teacher got fired for asking a student to turn off her cell phone in class. (Read the full article here.) The class was held at Facebook offices, so the argument was made that constantly checking her phone was part of the student’s job responsibilities, but others jumped into the fray and pointed out that she wasn’t saving the world. President Obama may need to be on call 24/7, but the rest of us can tune out for 50 minutes without serious repercussions. Seriously. Or, if it is that important, step outside and take the call where it won’t disrupt others.

Everyone I know who practices yoga does it for the physical benefits and for the calming effects, and they have the right to expect both. I go to the gym to exercise, clear my head, take care of myself, and I’ve been subjected to other gym-goers’ loud one-sided conversations about inappropriate topics including toe-nail fungus, a daughter’s STD, a string of cuss words that would make Howard Stern blush (still not sure what the actual topic was for that one). I’m so over selfish people who feel they have the right to subject everyone else to their boorish behavior. My whine this week: Turn off the damn phone!

What’s yours?

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Useful Children November 6, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

While watering my backyard this morning, I thought about how I really really don’t want to spend the coming weekend tackling the jungle of weeds that have again taken over. The guys who come every other week to mow the lawn and hack away at the shrubs in the front don’t do this kind of work, and I assume the nearby landscape design center only offers overhaul services, which is more than I need.

If I had kids, I’d be set. In my youth, my parents took full advantage of the unpaid workforce living under their roof. We had weekly and monthly chores, and we were expected to participate in their many home improvement projects. We mowed, cleared, dug, scrubbed, polished, built, and painted. One year, following a trip to Scotland, we transformed the family room into a pub, with billiards table, dart board, and plaid carpet (loved that carpet). Our reward for painting the room was a kids’ corner, complete with bean bag chairs and the video game Pong on our own TV. Heaven, circa 1975.

Pulling weeds was one of our regular duties, and my mom found creative incentives for motivating us to stop our whining and just get it done. “You each get a bag, and the person who fills up the most gets a quarter! Go!” I picture myself now, standing out on our street, propositioning passing school kids with “Hey. Wanna make a little extra cash? I’ll pay you $10 and it’s easy”…then I picture how I would be arrested as a possible molestation suspect. Hmmm…not the best idea.

We live in a city, so there aren’t that many children around, and we don’t live on a neat cul de sac, where everyone knows everyone and it would be easy to offer one of the neighbor’s kids a chance to earn some pocket money in exchange for a little physical labor. My 11-year-old niece has one of those gigs. She does odd jobs for an elderly neighbor, like picking plums and walking the dog. She worked her tail off one summer and, with the promise for matching funds from her dad, bought a new bike. I have yet to meet any such entrepreneurs on my street.

As much as my siblings and I complained about the unfairness of all the work we had to do, I have great memories of the projects we did together as a family. I also am grateful for the skills I picked up, skills I use today as my family-of-two’s handywoman. And as I look into my future, I’m sad that I won’t get to recreate these memories and pass on these skills to a new generation. I’m also really bummed that I’m going to spend part of this weekend in my garden, alone, pulling those pesky weeds. I need to think what kind of incentive would get me to stop my whining and race to fill up the biggest bag. A quarter isn’t going to cut it. The promise of a new dress might be just what this big kid needs to get it done. But…oooh…a dress by Armani. Now we’re talkin’.

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.

 

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).