Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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.

 

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.

 

Guest Post: Words or Tears September 13, 2012

By Peggy McGillicuddy

There are numerous examples of what NOT to say to someone who is dealing with infertility. What can be more difficult is to describe what TO say or do when someone you love is going through the experience.

The most appropriate and comforting response I have received came from my younger sister, Katie. We were conversing on the phone one night, and the topic glided over to my problems with conceiving. My husband and I had been going to a fertility clinic. We had been trying for a while, but to no avail.  Due to my age, IVF was the most logical next step, but not an option for us.

With a lump in my throat, I told my sister that I had reached a point where I felt like I now had to come to terms with the fact that I was never going to have children. I needed to start grieving. There was silence on the end of the phone. For a moment, I was annoyed, thinking that Katie didn’t want to talk about the subject.  But then I heard it.

She was crying. Not weepy, soft tears, but sobs.

I was taken aback, not anticipating this response. I really didn’t know what to say. So I asked a dumb question, that I already knew the answer to.

“Why are you crying?”

 

Between sobs, she said, “Because, Peggy, that’s so sad for you.  And sad for all of us.  I was imagining having a niece or nephew from my big sister. I’m so sorry. It’s just not fair.” 

 

And then she cried some more.

A sense of calm came over me. We talked a bit more about it, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say. I was stunned by how much better I felt after the interaction. I tried to figure out why, and came up with this:

She didn’t come back at me with advice on how to get pregnant. She didn’t try to fix it. She didn’t point out all the positives in NOT having children. She didn’t say, “Just adopt.” She didn’t tell me to be grateful for the things I already had.

Katie did not say that perhaps I didn’t want to be a mom badly enough, because if so, I would “just” do IVF. She didn’t imply that I had less right to grieve because I wasn’t trying every medical intervention available. She didn’t tell me I was already a “mother” to so many (it sounds nice, but it is NOT the same). And most importantly, she didn’t change the subject.

What she did do was profoundly different than all of those things listed above, of which I’d already heard. My sisters reaction was the most compassionate and appropriate because it matched the emotional intensity and sadness that I was already feeling. I didn’t have to explain why I felt so lousy, or justify my grief. I didn’t need to make excuses for myself or my choices.

What I got from Katie during this brief interaction over the phone was something that I hadn’t yet received from anyone else. Validation and permission.

Permission to grieve for a loss felt so deeply. Validation of the pain of infertility reflected back to me through someone else’s voice.

Listening to her on the phone that night, I finally felt someone else understood why my heart was breaking without me needing to explain why.

My sister’s tears did more for me than any words ever could have.

Peggy McGillicuddy is a counselor, consultant and group facilitator who works with children but is not a mom. You can explore her blog at akidfirst.com.

 

Life-Changing News June 25, 2012

In the realm of attitudes and stigma surrounding infertility and childlessness, I have a long list of things I’d like to see change in my lifetime. Somewhere close to the top of that list is the manner in which life-changing news is delivered.

Here’s how I first got official notification that there was something very wrong with me, and that my chances of conceiving naturally were next to zero.

A phone call. From someone (not sure who) in my RE’s office, but certainly not my doctor. I was at work, in an open office space, within earshot of my co-workers when I got the call.

The Mystery Person said, without pausing for breath, “We got your test results back, your blah-di-blah is high, so call us on the first day of your next period so we can get you started on IVF.”

No explanation of what that meant. No word about infertility. No offer of counseling on what to expect or where to go for help. I went from “let’s do a test to see what’s going on” to “let’s do IVF because you’re infertile” and the course of my life did a full 180 in the span of a ten-second conversation.

From talking to many of you on this subject, I know that this was not an isolated incident; in fact, I’d dare to say it’s the norm.

I compare this to my friend’s experience when a lump in her breast was diagnosed as cancer. She talked about the physicians who walked her through every step of her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. She talked about the volunteers at the breast center who took her into a quiet, comfortable room and gently guided her through brochures and directed her towards her counseling options. My friend’s diagnosis was life-changing, too (and not necessarily life-threatening, either), but the way the news was delivered couldn’t have been more different.

There was a time when cancer was a shameful disease and people didn’t talk about it openly, but kept it to themselves. Over the years, that’s changed. The medical community learned the need for compassion and understanding when dealing with patients who are scared and whose lives have been turned upside down. Thankfully, survival rates for cancer have risen dramatically over the years, but the need for compassion hasn’t diminished.

My hope is that infertility will attain a similar level of understanding and compassion, so that no one should have to have their lives upended with no more support than a ten-second phone call.

 

One Understanding Person June 18, 2012

How many times, when someone’s asked how you’re doing, have you said, “Oh, fine,” when inside, you know you’re really not? Plenty, I’m guessing.

We’re culturally pre-programmed to respond this way, because the truth is, when people say, “Hey, how are you doing?” what they mean is something like, “Hey, I see you, I’m acknowledging your existence and letting you know that I want you to think that I’m a friendly person, but don’t get too close, and definitely don’t answer my question honestly, because I really don’t want to know, unless everything’s rosy in your world.”

Cynical? Perhaps? But imagine answering that question honestly and picture the look you’d expect to see on most people’s faces.

Which is why we protect ourselves by telling everyone we’re fine.

Recently, Wendy added a comment to a post I wrote, and shared something she had once posted on her Facebook page. She wrote:

“Sometimes when I say, “I’m okay,” I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say, ‘I know you’re not.’”

Wendy said she got a lot of hugs after that post.

It’s incredible what a difference one understanding person can make. I’ve met several surprise ones over the years—a friend of my mother’s who caught me off guard with an understanding word; a stranger at a cocktail reception, who told me she and her husband didn’t have children either, and who became my BFF for the evening.

So, today I’m sending out a thank you to all the understanding people out there to let them know how much their simple word or hug made a difference to me.

Who’s been your surprise understanding person?

 

Teachable Moments May 21, 2012

As I’ve been reading the comments on this blog recently, I’m dismayed at the distressing situations some of you have found yourselves in lately. From celebrating a birth in the family to being asked to coordinate Mother’s Day activities for all the (other) moms to having pregnant bellies foisted upon us, we’ve all found ourselves in one of these situations at one time or another.

For many of us, our response, as well brought up citizens, is to suck it up, hide the fact that we’re hurting, and do what’s expected of us. Incredible as it seems, sometimes it’s easier to just make it through the event as best we can than to stand up and explain to someone why asking a women who can’t have children to host a huge celebration for someone who can perhaps isn’t the most well thought-out plan.

This is one of those “teachable moments”­—an opportunity to be an advocate and to educate the public about some of the many misunderstood facets of being childfree/childless/infertile.

Yeah, right.

It all sounds good on paper, but when emotions are raging, feelings are hurt and injustices are being dealt left and right, the last thing you want to do is get on your soapbox and educate.

And yet, in many cases, the other person isn’t meaning to be insensitive or cruel or even thoughtless. In most cases, they honestly don’t understand that they’re ripping out your heart and tap dancing all over it when they gush about babies and pregnancies and mommies.

I learned this a number of years ago in a writing class when someone kept using the word “retard” to describe people who acted stupidly. Finally, one of the women in the class stood up and said that she had a daughter who was mentally challenged and she explained why the word “retard” was so offensive and upsetting to her. She said what she had to say very calmly and without humiliating the person, and I have never forgotten that moment. I’ve never used that word since and I cringe whenever I hear it. Not everyone in the class that day will have had the same response, I’m sure, but I know that several of us walked away that day with a new level of understanding of mental disability.

I’m not going to sit here and say we have a duty to educate the public so that “some day infertility and the plight of non-moms everywhere will be understood.” It would be great, of course, but for right now, many of us are just focusing on making it through the day with our emotions intact. And I know that some people just don’t want to hear about a topic that, frankly, makes them uncomfortable.

But what if we spoke up? What if we said, “You know what, this is what I’m going through right now, and it’s hard for me to be around babies/pregnant women. It won’t be like this forever, but for now, I need you to cut me some slack.”?

I realize you’ll have to pick your moments and targets carefully and you’ll have to be mentally ready to talk about something you’d probably rather not talk about at all, but if it meant that one person had a better understanding of your situation and did in fact cut you some slack, it might be worth it. Only you can know that, though.

 

National Infertility Awareness Week News April 26, 2012

The Huffington Post is running a series on infertility for National Infertility Awareness Week and I’m very pleased to be included among their guest bloggers. You can find my post on the topic of compassion here. (Regular readers may recognize the topic from a post I wrote here a couple of weeks ago.) If you’re comfortable, please feel free to share the post.

In other news, we are gearing up for Saturday’s Life Without Baby Live! event. I’ve really enjoyed conducting the interviews and I think you’ll enjoy hearing from these wonderful, dynamic – and childfree – women about their experiences.

The fun starts here at noon (Pacific time) Saturday April 28. (You can find your time zone here using America/Los Angeles.) If you can’t make it live, fear not, the event with be recorded and available here shortly afterwards.

Thanks for your support and I look forward to chatting with you on Saturday.