Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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

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Book Review: Complete Without Kids May 20, 2011

I recently read Dr. Ellen Walker’s new book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011). In it, she shines a spotlight on what it’s like to be childfree, based on dozens of interviews she conducted with singles and couples across the U.S. She covers the circumstances in which her interviewees became childfree – whether by choice, circumstance, or happenstance – and the effects that being childfree has had on their lives. She addresses the issues of pressure from friends, family, and society, as well the impact living childfree has on marriage, friendships, career, and the long-term future. Her research makes for a fascinating insight into the lives and choices of others.

Reading the book, it was interesting to spot traits I shared with some of Dr. Walker’s subjects and to put a clinical term to some of my own experiences of infertility and coming to terms with being childfree-not-by-choice. When Dr. Walker talks about one of Freud’s tools for coping, I could clearly identify my own path of applying logic to my own story and even convincing myself that I never really wanted the thing I couldn’t have. Freud called it rationalization; I call it “Fake it ’til you make it.” Regardless of the label, I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t alone in the way I’d handled my own circumstances.

I was really touched and saddened by the story of Miriam, an 89-year-old woman who had dealt with infertility and admitted that, even now, she still feels deprived and has never been able to find peace with her childlessness. 43-year-old Jill attended a women’s retreat that began with a circle where everyone was asked to give her name and tell how many children and grandchildren she had!! Out of fifty women, Jill and a young Japanese exchange student were the only two who didn’t have children. Jill speculates as to how that experience influenced the younger woman’s decision to have children, so that she wouldn’t find herself the “odd duck” in the room later in life.

Fair warning to those of you who didn’t choose to be childfree. The book is definitely skewed towards people who made a clear decision to not have children. Dr. Walker, a psychologist who began this project while exploring her own choice to live childfree, points out early in the book that, although the three groups of childfree people overlap in places, she found a marked difference in attitude and experience between those who chose not to have kids and those who found themselves in that situation.  While the disadvantages of a childfree life get their space in the book, the advantages take center stage. However, as someone who wanted children but couldn’t, I was able to look at the many advantages quoted by those who chose to be childfree and use them to find a silver lining in my own situation.