Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

My Annual Test December 10, 2012

Christmas secretThere are several annual tests I take every year to monitor my physical health—eye test, teeth examination, PAP, blood sugar—but now that December is upon us, I’m preparing myself for the annual test of my emotional health—a visit from Santa.

Every year, the city where I live sends a noisy police escort to accompany a large motorized sleigh and the jolly old man in red himself. Every December, around this time, we hear the commotion of sirens and horns and assume there’s a criminal on the loose in the neighborhood, then one of us remembers, “Oh right, it’s Santa,” and dash outside to give him a wave.

I used to dread these visits. Even though there are approximately two children living on my block, hundreds (it seemed to me) would flood out of the woodwork to get a photo with Santa. I would hover on my doorstep, wanting to appear as if I was in the Christmas spirit, but finding myself slammed by the stark reality of my childlessness. I had no one to take to visit Santa, no excited hand to hold, and no commemorative photo for the scrapbook. I’d clutch my cat and kid myself that she was excited to see Santa (she was terrified) and I wouldn’t say anything at all to Mr. Fab in case he heard the crack in my voice or spotted one of the tears I was dripping into my poor kitty’s fur. Even just recalling those times makes the color drain from my face.

One year, my neighbor (in her 50’s) skipped up my front steps and said, “I want to have my picture taken with Santa; will you take me?” I did. She hopped up into the sleigh and grinned next to Santa. I have a copy of the photo and the sheer, unadulterated joy in her face makes me smile every time. My friend helped me to find a different kind of joy in this otherwise trying event.

Every year since then Santa’s annual visit has become easier and I’ve started using it as a gauge to see how I’m doing. It’s my annual test of my emotional wellbeing and my healing progress.

It’s December 10th already, so I’m expecting to take the test any day now. The good news is that this year I think I’m going to pass with flying colors.

 

Truth and Hope December 7, 2012

Crossed fingersThe “hope” discussion surfaced again this week, when Pamela at Silent Sorority wrote an eloquent post about the dangers of misinformation regarding infertility.

Pamela brought to light the writings of another infertility awareness advocate, Julie, who criticized celebrity infertiles (now celebrity parents) Guiliana and Bill Rancic for publicly telling infertile couples, “If you stick with it and never quit, it will pay off.”

You can read what both Pamela and Julie have to say on the topic here.

I heartily agree that this kind of blind encouragement gives people a false sense of hope that infertility is always surmountable. There are enough of us here to shout that belief soundly down to the ground. I’ve written about this kind of “don’t give up hope” comment on this blog in the past and how paralyzing it can be to someone who doesn’t want to keep hoping for a miracle.

But what do you say instead?

I remember working with a young woman who was planning to start trying for a family. I can well remember calling on the wisdom of my experience and offering her my unsolicited, yet sage, warning that getting pregnant might not happen immediately. She got knocked up the next month and I ate crow. I hated that I hadn’t been more positive and could only paint for her the most dire of pictures.

But experience comes hard-earned and I bet Guiliana and Bill know that. It’s one thing to be positive and encouraging, but a little truth and reality can go a long way. Perhaps Guiliana and Bill would have done better to say, “Yes it worked out for us, and yes, we are among the lucky ones.”

 

You’re Not Alone: Seeking A Meaningful Life December 6, 2012

This is the first guest post in the new “You’re Not Alone” series of reader’ stories. If you’d like to see your story here, you’ll find details in our Writers’ Guidelines.

By SparklingRain

It took exactly two tests, and our result was clear: the possibility of having our own biological child was smaller than the chance of my being able to speak Klingon fluently.

At first I thought I had a plan: even without children I swore I would lead this “fulfilled life”.  Friends happily suggest that dear husband and I could really have fun: we could go jet-setting across the globe at will, having nobody waiting at home. “Or, or!” they would suggest excitedly, “You can always have a weekend project of..see..renovating your house? Growing a great rose garden?  You see, you have to make your life more exciting, more meaningful!”

A much older colleague chimed in: “Those not blessed with children ought to find their true purpose in life. You, I don’t see you doing any charity work. What do you do on weekends anyway?”

Unfortunately though, if meaningful life consisted of either having children or the combination of endless vacations and charity work and a beautiful house with a rose garden, then I’d be doomed. We do have decent income, but vacationing is limited to a neighboring city once a year. On weekends, I am afraid we mostly stay home or wander around in galleries or museums, and then get home and sleep or read a book.  I am startled to realize I don’t have the inclination to do volunteer work, let alone gardening.

I was so close to Googling what a “really meaningful life” looked like. Being lazy however, I simply looked around one evening as we were watching TV and glimpsed on my very own fingers, tangled with dear husband’s.  We were laughing at some local politicians being interviewed on TV, trashing their less-than-smart tired jargons. One politician remarked about how the country needed to start paying attention to the welfare of teachers nationwide, because “poor financial condition make lousy teachers”. We both teach, I am a lecturer of Electrical Engineering, he is a Visual Arts teacher, and we both strongly feel good teachers are good teachers, whether they ride a limousine or a bicycle to school.

And it hit me: I am lucky to have this man to watch bad TV shows together, to laugh at them with our fingers tangled into each others’, and to share a view important to us. (Come to think of it, we share many views, such as one should not bother whether cereal can only be eaten in the mornings and steak in the evenings.) We both have jobs we love, which we secretly think we are good at. Working with young adults and teenagers however have its own perks. They simply either listen to you or yell (well almost) at you, they will make sure you know whether you’re a good teacher or you speak mumbo-jumbo in class, never caring whether you have 0 or 14 kids. Dear husband has seen his students successfully enroll in good arts departments of universities in the country and abroad; I have seen my students grow from quivering masses of confusion to confident engineers – and I would like to claim that our lives are meaningful because of that.

For the longest time I thought I just needed to add a routine of diaper-changing or breastfeeding to my daily life and voila: meaningful life. It has been two years since I decided not to pursue fertility treatments, and I can say it’s all good.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s actually time for my dose of fiction books. Some people’s meaningful lives may consist of hauling children to a pediatrician or promoting world peace, and I respect them for that – if only they would respect my time to curl up on the sofa with my book.

SparklingRain lives with her husband and several outdoor cats in Indonesia. She blogs at http://tembusmatahari.blogspot.com

 

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.

 

Everything Happens for a Reason December 3, 2012

My friend has been very sick recently. She is single, doesn’t have children, and her family lives in another state, so when she told me what was going on, I offered to go with her to her doctor’s appointments and help her out while she recovers from surgery.

One of the reasons I’m able to be there for her is that I don’t have children (the other is that I work for myself, so I can easily move my schedule around.) If I had children to care for, there’s no way I would have been able to sit in on her appointments or even just hang out with her and keep her company.

It’s also not lost on me that I am one husband and one diagnosis away from being in her position. As, statistically, I should outlive Mr. Fab, there’s a very real possibility that I could someday find myself in her shoes. And frankly, it’s scaring the crap out of me.

I’ve been pretty cavalier so far about what will happen to me in the future and who will be there for me when I’m old or if I get sick. Mr. Fab is a rotten nurse as a rule, but I know that if ever I were really sick, he’d be there for me. But if he’s not around, then who will be?

I now know from experience that there’s only so much a friend can do and I know that my friend has still spent much of the last few weeks dealing with her illness alone. Truly it’s a horrible thought.

But before I drag you down into a pit of despair, take heart. Something is going on with me that I cannot yet explain. Although I’m generally quick to dismiss the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought, I have a very strong and inexplicable feeling that something positive will come out of this experience with my friend.  Maybe I have something to learn from her or maybe she’s casting a light on something I need to consider. Maybe her journey will show me the solution to my own fear.

I’m sorry to be so vague and mysterious, but I don’t yet have any explanation for my odd feeling. But something is coming, and when it does, you can bet I’ll be sharing it with you here.

 

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.

 

Funny Friday: A Job Opportunity? November 23, 2012

I always start my mornings by reading the newspaper (I know; call me old-fashioned) and my day officially begins after I’ve read the comics.

Recently, Darrin Bell’s Candorville tickled my funny bone, with this cartoon.

I wonder if making a few bucks would ease the sting of listening to parents who don’t quite get that we might not want to hear every detail about their children.

No, probably not.