Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Guest Blogger: Carrie Friedman May 16, 2010

Excerpt from PREGNANT PAUSE, by Carrie Friedman

 

During my first three years of marriage, everywhere I went, people’s eyes migrated to my unchanging waistline. And it was everyone. Not just friends and family, but the eye doctor, the dental assistant, the bagger at the grocery store. And all of them felt entitled to ask.

The strangest inquiry had to have been from my yoga teacher: I drove across town once a week to take this class because I loved the teacher, a hip young German woman with a thick accent who’d play Tina Turner music during the sun salutations. She was the kind of funky that made you wish you had a tattoo. Something small and tasteful but a little bit bad. Because she hadn’t fully grasped the language yet, she was often unintentionally poetic when speaking to all of us. My favorite was, “you are lifting the Springtime of your heart to the flowers in your skull.”

I was resting in savasana pose, on my back, when she knelt down near my ear and whispered: “Your ovaries are ripe, yes?”

I opened my eyes and looked up at her. “My who?” Surely she meant something else. Eggs? Omelettes? Oranges? Or maybe this was some sort of German lesbian come-on line?

She whispered again: “Your ovaries, they are bright and ready for the babies.”

I pulled my legs to my chest, as if this could somehow block her x-ray vision into my pelvis, and stared at her, confused. Who was this woman and why was she tracking my ovulation better than I was? How could she tell? Was I bloated? And did she have to interrupt my peaceful resting pose, the one chance I had per week to fully relax and reflect?

I didn’t stick around after class to clarify, and my ovaries and I never went back.

On our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, a mere month after Stephen and I tied the knot, my Great-Uncle Marvin focused on the area just below my waistline and said, “Oh Carrie! I see a little paunch! Is somebody expecting?” His eyes became googly and he sounded like he was talking to a puppy. He didn’t go so far as to poke my paunch, which was fortunate since I would have broken his fingers.

No, Marv,” I said. “I just finished eating Thanksgiving dinner, just like you.” I stopped short of asking him when he was due.

Why do people feel entitled to ask? Did they see the wedding band and connect marriage with procreation? It was obnoxious: For all he knew, I couldn’t have kids. For all I knew I couldn’t have kids, as I had not yet tried. But imagine if I had submitted to all kinds of treatments, only to come up empty-wombed. Imagine how painful this line of interrogation would be. Stephen thinks some people ask because it helps them validate their own choices. But he doesn’t truly understand how infuriating it is, and that’s no doubt because nobody badgers men about procreativity with the same frequency.

Was there a more personal question than the equivalent to: “So! You and the hubby having lots of unprotected sex lately?” How would they feel if I looked at their wrinkles and grey hair and said: “You look older every time I see you. You planning for your funeral yet?” or “You’re menopausal, right? How’s the dryness?” Sure, maybe they were just making conversation, but when I thought of ice-breakers, birth control didn’t spring to mind.

Perhaps childfree couples should all carry a printed card in their wallets, with this list of possible responses to the dreaded “when are you having babies?” question:

  • I had two this morning. They were delicious.”
  • Actually, I can’t have kids. I’d managed to go a few hours without thinking about it, but thanks for reminding me.”
  • Well, we had one. You must not have read about it, but long story short, don’t hire an English nanny.”
  • We’re not. We’ve decided to clone.”

Hopefully that will shut them up.

 

Carrie Friedman lives and writes in Los Angeles. She has been published in several publications, including Newsweek, and in a couple of anthologies, including Cassette From My Ex. Her website is www.carriefriedmania.com.

 

Win a copy of Carrie’s brilliant book, PREGNANT PAUSE. Just leave a comment on this post and we’ll draw a random winner next Saturday. The book is also available on Amazon.

 

Whiny Wednesday May 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized,Whiny Wednesdays — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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When I tell people about my decision to not have children, and tell them the story of how I got here, a common response I hear is: “Don’t give up hope; it could still happen.” They don’t seem to understand that my situation isn’t hopeless; I’ve made an intelligent and considered decision and “hope” is no longer involved.

Here’s the reality: I have bum ovaries that kick out half-baked eggs. I’m 40 years old and am therefore well into the danger zone for birth defects. My husband is almost 55, meaning he’ll be well into his 70’s before our miracle baby makes it into college. We wrestled with the pros and cons of continuing a quest to have children and we’ve made an informed decision to stop. This is now what is best for us. So, if you’re thinking that I’m just saying I don’t want kids, but I’m secretly hoping I’ll get knocked up, I’m not. Please give me credit for my decision and for being strong enough to tell you the truth.

Oh, and Happy Cinco de Mayo.

 

When Choice is Not an Option May 4, 2010

Last night I performed at a spoken word show here in Santa Monica. I got up in front of about 100 total strangers and told the story of how my husband, Jose, and I came to make the decision to give up on having children, and be a happy family of two. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a very intimate story and I think I told it frankly, maybe even matter-of-factly, but I aired our dirty laundry all the same.

My husband was in the  audience and, as he’d never heard or read the story before, I was a little worried about his reaction, but he was 100% supportive. After the show, a number of people came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. A couple of women told me how they had related to the story because of their own experiences. It was very touching and encouraging to know that I had reached people.

But more than one person came up to me during the post-show reception and asked the inevitable question, some version of: “So are you guys still thinking of adopting?” I want you to know that I was the model of composure. I answered calmly and politely, that no, we weren’t, and that we were lucky to have the kind of relationship that many people never have, and that was enough for us.

But I guess some people just can’t take, “No,” for an answer. People want a Hollywood ending to their stories,  and for many, the idea of choosing not to have children is, dare I say it, inconceivable.

 

My Bah Humbug to Mother’s Day, But Not to Mother May 2, 2010

Due to circumstances that give no cause for celebration, I will find myself away from home next Sunday, in a country that has already celebrated Mother’s Day, back in March. I’m very glad for the reprieve from the unavoidable Mother’s Day festivities here. Usually on that day I avoid restaurants that might be handing out flowers to all the mothers, and steer clear of stores festooned with gifts I might have liked, had I been a mother. Pretty much I avoid anywhere where I might be at risk of some unsuspecting person innocently wishing me “Happy Mother’s Day” and forcing me to again face the fact that I am not a mother.

But just because I don’t care to celebrate Mother’s Day as a kind of national holiday, doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate my mother on that day, or in my case, in March. I send her a homemade card (because it’s impossible to find a Mother’s Day card in U.S. stores in March), give her a gift that I’ll know she’ll appreciate more than flowers—new cycling gear, or something practical for her garden. If I could choose my mother again from a catalog of all mothers, I’d still pick the same model (maybe with an added “chocolate cake baking” feature), and I wouldn’t dream of not honoring her on Mother’s Day.

But I want to do it in my own way. I want to call her and wish her a happy Mother’s Day, as a private celebration between mother and daughter, and let my brothers celebrate her in their own way, too. To me, Mother’s Day has never been a universal holiday where everything stops to revolve around mothers. It shouldn’t be a day when complete strangers wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. But it is, and I so can’t help feeling like a famous, though unlikable, Dickensian character, when I think: “You keep Mother’s Day in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

 

Top 10 Reasons to Speak Up and Be Heard May 1, 2010

10. Women without children are a growing percentage of the population

9. We are still misunderstood, even by our family and closest friends

8. Our opinion is a unique perspective that deserves to be heard

7. We need to show that the childless are not child-haters or parent-haters; we’ve just made an unconventional choice for reasons of our own

6. We might even start a revolution

5. The radicals are just beating their shields

4. People cannot walk a mile in our shoes, but we can tell them about our journeys

3. What we say may help another woman

2. Airing our opinions is therapeutic and can help reduce the risk of wrinkles

1. We all want to know that we’re not really alone.

 

Have Your Say…Quietly April 30, 2010

Since this blog officially launched about a month ago, there have been some great conversations happening, and I’ve been pleased to hear people say how glad they are to have a place to come and talk with like-minded women. But behind the scenes something

interesting has been going on. I’ve had lots of e-mails and “off-blog” contact with readers who’ve shared some really thought-provoking comments. With each one I’ve thought, “Oh, I wish you’d posted that in the comments.”

Finally, a couple of readers admitted that they were afraid to post their opinions in public.

Afraid? I thought. Why?

But after snooping around some other blogs and websites, I can see why. Out there in the blogosphere, I found plenty of radical thinkers of all factions, from child-haters who despise “breeders,” to mothers of 12 (or 19) who firmly believe it’s Gods will that they continue to produce baby after baby. And they’re all pretty vocal about their points-of-view. Getting into those discussions can be intimidating.

The biggest danger in putting your opinion out in public is that someone’s always going to disagree with you. But by the same token there will be plenty more people who’ll read what you have to say, and think, “Yes!! That’s what I’ve been feeling. Thank you!”

So, I urge you: Speak up, Sisters. We childless women are not to be pitied, or sneered at, and, most of all, we don’t need fixing! For every time someone has told you you’re selfish or you’ll regret not having children, or suggested you just adopt, there is another woman out there who has actually walked a mile in your shoes. Even when our dearest friends and family aren’t hearing us, there’s always someone else out there that gets it. So speak up and be heard. Please.

And for those of you who are still a little stage shy, look in the top right hand corner of this page and you’ll see a new button called, “Suggest Topics”; click on that and you can send your comments and opinions directly to me via e-mail. I’ll take them and weave them into a post (without using your name, of course,) so that you can still be heard, even if you’re only whispering. 😉

 

Do We Have a Responsibility to Reproduce? April 27, 2010

I’m sure if you’ve ever told anyone of your intentions regarding motherhood, you’ve heard a response something along the lines of: “Oh, but you’d be such a great mother,” or “The world needs people like you to reproduce.” It comes with the suggestion that if you’re intelligent, law-abiding, relatively sane, and wouldn’t be seen dead on Jerry Springer, you have some kind of obligation to society to contribute your genes to the world. But what is your obligation really?

As women of the 21st century, we still fight the battles our mothers and grandmothers fought. We may not be fighting for the right to vote or for women’s liberation, but we’re still fighting for equality in pay, for the right to marry who we want, and to have full control over what we do to our own bodies. And we still tussle with the wife/mother roles we’ve had passed down to us. Many of us still take on the majority of the household chores and make sure all the family birthday cards go out on time. And yet we’re striving to succeed on our own terms, trying to make a difference, and trying not to be labeled simply Wife/Mother/Grandmother.

But the fact remains that there can never really be equality in motherhood. Women bear children. We feed them. We are naturally the nurturers. Motherhood isn’t a task we can trade with a male partner: “I’ll install the new sprinkler system if you birth the babies.”

So as women, do we have a responsibility to reproduce? The world is overpopulated, polluted, and crowded, but if we all stop reproducing, the human race can’t go on? So what is our responsibility to the continuation of mankind. Tell us your thoughts on this subject.

 

Guest Blogger: Kathleen Guthrie April 24, 2010

The latest relationship-with-potential had ended, and I was again lamenting the fact that I was nowhere near realizing my dreams of love, marriage, and having a child. “Maybe you’re supposed to birth a book instead,” my friend suggested.

I should what?! Like that was supposed to fill the aching hole in my heart?

A decade later, and I still can’t come up with a witty response.

As I breezed through my 30s and early 40s, other friends (and their mothers, and my mother’s friends, and women I’d just met at mutual friends’ baby showers) offered up alternate ways I might satisfy my desire to have a child of my own: Become a preschool/Sunday school teacher. Open a day care center. Volunteer to hold sick babies in a NICU. Become the world’s best aunt ever.

I embraced the last suggestion while I built a successful business, nurtured friendships, traveled, and eventually entered into a loving, built-to-last relationship with a wonderful man. In time, I made my peace with the childless role Mother Nature had planned for me.

Still… I wonder. What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I spent the first half of it longing to be pregnant, to experience my body operating at its highest function, to create the miracle of life. I had daydreamed about soccer games, Girl Scout meetings, and family game nights. I had looked forward to raising good humans and sharing them with the world. While I consider my life today “full” and blessed and very happy, I wonder if there’s anything out there for me to do that will be as fulfilling as being a mother.

And so, sister-mentors, I ask for your wisdom and guidance. What other paths have you explored or chosen? What gives your life-without-children meaning? Have you found fulfillment by creating works of art, expanding your definition of “family,” doing volunteer work, or embracing your many freedoms? And what do you say to friends or strangers who unintentionally hurt you with their suggestions for how to make the most of a childfree life?

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in AAA’s Westways, GRIT, Real Simple, and 805 Living magazines. Read “How to Be the World’s Best Aunt Ever” on eHow.com.

 

Just When You Think….

Filed under: Childfree by Choice — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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At Trader Joe’s this morning, the cashier asked me if my eggs had been checked. I blinked at him for a full three seconds before I realized what he meant.

Sometimes you think you have this whole childless thing under control–and sometimes you realize you just don’t.

 

Useful Advice April 20, 2010

My friend Elizabeth passed along a poem to me from Garrison Keillor’s website. It’s called Useful Advice, by Catherine Tufariello, and begins:

You’re 37? Don’t you think that maybe
It’s time you settled down and had a baby?

I laughed at the first line, but quickly stopped laughing as I kept reading. Instead, I began checking off all the lines that I’d heard, maybe even writing a few extra lines for her. I know nothing about this poet, but I am certain, from reading this, that she heard every single one of these lines on her journey. You can read Useful Advice here.

Also, please take a second to visit Elizabeth’s blog, A moon, worn as if it had been a shell. Elizabeth writes about her life with baby, as  the mother of three children, including her daughter, Sophie, who is severely disabled. Elizabeth is a tireless advocate for children with special needs and offers a frank and often surprising perspective on the challenges as well as the rewards of raising a child with disabilities.