Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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I assumed this pamphlet must be way out-of-date, but the copyright is 2010, and the legal notation on the back indicates it must be distributed to all marriage license applicants.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.

 

Advice for the Infertile February 6, 2012

A woman I know told me recently that she’s been going through fertility treatments and it’s not been going well. She didn’t ask for advice, but I felt I needed to say something encouraging. I mean, I’ve been there, I understand better than most what she’s going through and how she might be feeling. And I knew that she’d confided in me because she wanted to know she wasn’t alone.

But I didn’t know what to say to her.

Oh, I had a whole list of things I knew not to say, like: “You can always adopt,” or “If it’s meant to be it will happen,” so I wasn’t going near any of those. But I couldn’t come up with anything that sounded helpful.

I wanted to say something positive, to keep her spirits up and give her encouragement. I thought about, “Don’t give up hope,” or something similar. But I also know from experience that hope can turn negative when you keep clinging to it. Sometimes, “Don’t give up hope,” is the last thing you want to hear.

So, I considered, “Stay strong.” It’s general, but positive right? But who am I to tell her to keep a stiff upper lip, when I know the value of letting go of those feelings of frustration and just letting it all out.

In the end I told her that if she ever needed an ear, mine would be available. That was the best I could offer, and I hope it’s enough.

What would you have said? How do you strike a balance between what you know from experience and projecting your situation onto someone else? How do you help someone who’s dealing with infertility?

 

Interview with author, Dr. Ellen Walker June 23, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ellen Walker, author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance. Ellen is childfree by choice, and even though I am childfree by chance, we had plenty to talk about on the subjects of friendship and community, the drive for motherhood, and what to do when life doesn’t go as planned. Here’s our conversation:

Life Without Baby: How did you make the decision to be childfree?

Ellen Walker: I never spent a lot of time thinking about motherhood. I was busy with work, travel, and hobbies, and I always had partners that never wanted a family.

My current husband already had grown children, and I never felt pressure from him, this was the first time I’d really been close to a father-son relationship, and when I’d hear him on the phone, telling his son he loved him, it tugged at my heartstrings. For the first time, I began to question my decision not to have children, and suddenly I wanted a baby of my own.

After many tearful discussions and weeks of writing, talking, and contemplating, I was able to step back and analyze. I realized that if I really wanted children, I would have made it happen before.

LWB: What do you think triggered that urge?

EW: I think it’s a basic biological drive to create a child, especially in a relationship with a man. You have a primitive urge to have his baby. It’s also about not wanting to be left out of a group. When friends are having babies and people are bringing photos of children into work, you have nothing to talk about with them.

LWB: Do you find that most of your friends are also childfree?

EW: Yes. My female friends tend to be 10-20 years older because the women my own age didn’t have time for friends without kids. Their friends went to soccer games and connected because of their kids. I did seek out childfree people, but most came about through chance meetings.

LWB: How important is it to find your own community?

EW: Really important. I never thought about it until I started meeting people and got really excited when they didn’t have children. I began to seek out others. I found a childfree Meetup group and went to a few meetings. It was fun, but I realized that just being childfree does not make someone a good candidate for friendship. Now, I look for people with interests in common, and if they happen to be childfree, I nurture those relationships.

LWB: Do you ever regret your decision?

EW: Sometimes. In a way I feel as if I’ve missed a big life stage. I’ve been career driven for a long time, and I’m feeling as if I’m ready to do something else. Many women my age with children are now focusing on their careers, and I’m ready to retire. I’m trying to figure out the next stage.

If I’d been raising kids, I wouldn’t have had the energy I’ve had for other things. I’m glad I made the choice and pursued my career. I’ve had the opportunity to impact people’s lives and I’ve written a book. I wouldn’t have been able to do those things. Everyone has regrets, but luckily mine are fleeting. Mother’s Day is always hard. I recently wrote an article about it for Psychology Today, asking people to be careful about saying “Happy Mother’s Day” to every woman and to be aware that it can be a very painful day for some women, and not a happy day.

LWB: What advice would you give to someone struggling with being childfree?

EW: Let yourself go through a real grieving process, preferably with a therapist. A dream is something you’d hoped to have as a part of your identity and most likely wanted it your whole life. Losing that dream is like a death, and a formal grieving process has to include acceptance. Only then can you make a decision about where you’re going to put your energy. Then you can create a new dream, picture your future, and figure out how to make that happen.

While writing my book, I interviewed a woman in her 90s. She had never talked about her childlessness. Decades later, she still hadn’t reconciled and come-to-terms with it. She had so many strengths and talents, and had she dealt with her grief and loss, she could have embraced a new life.

LWB: It was a pleasure talking to you about your choices and hearing your insight.

EW: This is a really important issue for women of the world. We are peers for the next generation of women who may experience pressure from mothers to have grandchildren. We need to talk about this topic and be good role models for young women.

LWB: I couldn’t agree more.

To learn more about Ellen Walker, please visit her website, CompleteWithoutKids.com

 

Breaking Up With Mother’s Day May 3, 2011

My friend is getting married this year and received some good advice from an aunt, who explained that marriage isn’t all about romance and that sometimes you’re not going to like the person you marry. Sometimes you’ll be angry, upset, frustrated, and hurt. She told my friend, “It’s okay to be angry, in fact it’s good. It’s when you stop feeling angry and feel nothing that you know there’s a problem.”

I think this is very sage advice and I know from my own experience of past relationships that when I stopped being upset about things that should have made me angry, that relationship was pretty much doomed. Apathy is deadly.

I bring this is up because of the way I’m feeling about Mother’s Day this year. In the past, I’ve run the gamut of emotions when this day has ticked around. I’ve been sad about my own loss, frustrated at my situation, angry about having motherhood pushed in my face, and hurt that other people don’t realize how much that day affects me. I’ve stayed indoors on past Mother’s Days; I’ve avoided restaurants that are celebrating mothers, and I’ve even avoided public places, where some unsuspecting nicey-nice person might wish me a happy Mother’s Day, oblivious to how much it stings.

But this year, I feel differently. This year I don’t care. I’m not feeling dread at the approaching day; I’m not putting on my emotional armor ready to deflect the hurt, and I’m not making plans to hide away. I don’t feel especially determined to not let this day affect me, and I’m not taking a stand and trying to prove I’m strong. I just don’t feel anything.

I think this means that Mother’s Day and I are about to break up. And how freeing that would be to get up on Sunday morning and just go about my day. As you may recall from a previous post. my own mother is in a county that celebrates Mother’s Day in March, and my husband’s mother is no longer with us, so we are under no obligation to celebrate at all. It’s truly liberating.

I’m writing this post almost a week before the Big Day, so I will be keeping a watchful eye of my vitals and checking how I feel as the week goes on. But maybe this is the year that will mark the closing of a chapter for me, which of course, is always followed by the start of a new one. Watch this space!

 

Advice for “30 and Childless” February 17, 2011

I came across this question on Yahoo Answers recently: “How rare is it to be childless at 30 years old?”

In my world, it’s not rare at all. Thinking back to when I was 30, very few of my friends had children. When I was 30, I wasn’t ready to have children, never mind the fact that I hadn’t found anyone responsible enough to have them with! So, my answer to this woman is, “Don’t worry about. Just live your life!”

And yet…

When I was 30 I had no idea that my fertility was already in decline, and I hadn’t yet seen the freefall that happens on the fertility rate chart when a woman hits 35. Given my own experience with trying to conceive in my 30’s, it makes me want to offer this woman some of my hard-earned wisdom.

But what would I tell her? Don’t wait too long? If you think you might want children someday, consider freezing your eggs now? Think about your long-term goals and priorities? Find a man and hurry up?

Blach! Of course not! When I was 30 I would have rolled my eyes at this advice, too – probably did, in fact. And who am I to tell this woman that life isn’t as straight-forward as it’s cracked up to be? Who am I to tell her she needs to hurry up and take on the responsibility of being a parent?

I was happy being childless when I was 30. I was unhappy being childless from 34 to 40, and now I’m looking at 41, I’m still childless, but you know what? I’m happy again. It’s called life and you can plan it until you’re blue in the face, but sometimes it just happens how it happens, and you find your way. So I won’t offer her any advice (especially as she didn’t ask for it) and I’ll just trust she’ll find her own way.

How about you? What would you tell this woman?