Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…“The Good and the Brutal” December 18, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Aunt Kath….” My four-year-old nephew looked up at me with his big brown eyes, my sister’s eyes.

“Yes, love.”

“You know what I’m doing right now?”

“Nope. Tell me.”

“I’m pretending you’re my mommy.”

My heart swelled to three times its size before I felt like it was then ripped out of my chest. Choking back a sob, I said, “That’s so sweet. Thank you. Tell me….” But before I could ask him about this imaginary family of his, where he got the idea, what kind of mommy I was (funny, strict, a lot like his real mommy), he had moved on to a new topic, something to do with a game he likes to play at his preschool. Hours later, alone with my thoughts, I revisited this exchange and struggled to come to terms with what it did to me.

I’m not new to this conversation. This sweet boy is the youngest of six nieces and nephews, and each has gone through this phase of wanting to pretend I’m their mommy. Out to lunch or shopping with a niece (“Let’s pretend you’re my mom.”), playing in the park with a nephew (“Maybe they think you’re my mom.”). They’re all great kids, so I’m flattered and touched by their game. And they’re all great kids, so it also slays me emotionally. I would have loved being their mom.

I expected to grieve my losses, feel left out, and wrestle with difficult choices in the coming-to-terms-with-being-childfree dance. I just didn’t think that the same moments that fill my soul with unanticipated joy could also send me into new cycles of depression. Brutal, right?

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Small Talk September 26, 2012

Yesterday I accompanied my friend as she underwent a very unpleasant test for a big, scary health issue. My friend is a lot like me: she has no children and her family is many miles away. No one should go through something like this alone, so I volunteered to be, what she good-naturedly called, her “Biopsy Buddy.”

I’m sure the medical center staff has been highly trained in putting nervous patients at ease, and the nurse who prepped my friend for her procedure did a good job of making safe small-talk. Unfortunately, she latched onto the topic of Halloween, her big plans to go to Disneyland for the evening, and the problems of trying to find a Halloween costume to fit a 7-year-old with extra-long legs. If she was looking to get a conversation started to ease the tension, she picked the wrong, darn subject.

I don’t blame her for going with what she assumed to be a safe bet. I just wish the topic of children wasn’t always the go-to conversation starter.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What do you wish was different today?

 

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.

 

Guest Post: Just Enjoy Your Life August 23, 2012

This post was originally published on April 12, 2012.

By Iris D

“Just enjoy your life.”

These were the words one of my mom friends shared with me not too long ago.  I had not seen her since she had her second baby, and we got to talking about kids and I opened up to her and told her that my husband and I were unable to have biological children, and how difficult this was for me.  That evening I learned that her older son, now about 5 or 6, had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.  She told me that when she and her husband married they had agreed to remain childfree, but that after some time she changed her mind and really pushed him to reconsider, and so their first son was born.  I guessed by our conversation that they had decided to have a second child largely out of concern for their firstborn.  My friend is an older mom and her husband is quite a bit older than she is. Although her son seems pretty high functioning, she worries mostly about the potential for social isolation that children with Asperger syndrome might experience.

Lately, I’ve thought a bit about my friends and family who have special needs kids.  I have a little cousin (now 15) who has Down Syndrome and another cousin who has a significant learning/developmental disability, this latter case is even more difficult because the young man in question looks physically very strong and people do not understand that he actually has a problem and cannot help some of his behavior.  In both cases, the people in question have siblings that will hopefully step in and take charge if and when their parents are unable to do so, but I know that not everyone is as fortunate to have an immediate or extended family that can help. I recall reading an article a few years back about an older woman who was looking for someone who could step in and care for her adult disabled son, as her health no longer allowed her to do so.

These stories get me thinking about the many needs that are out there and the opportunities that I might have to volunteer my time and of course about the positive emotional (and physical) benefits of volunteering, but they also remind me of one of my favorite quotes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

When I allow myself to think about my childlessness, mostly I just feel sad, and so lately I really try to remind myself to feel grateful for the life I have right now, and sometimes I hear my friend’s voice reminding me to just enjoy my life.

Iris lives in Florida with her husband and best friend of many years. Five years ago infertility and other life stressors really messed with her head, but she’s gradually regaining her Self and her passion for life.