Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About The Meaning of Christmas December 25, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

For unto us a Child is born. (Isaiah 9:6)

As I heard these words in my umpteenth pre-Christmas service, my first thought was Pfft! Right. I mean, isn’t it bad enough that I have had to endure yet another holiday season being painfully aware of the lack of children in my life? And then at every turn I am reminded that we mark this holiday in celebration of a miraculous birth. Come on! This almost trumps Mother’s Day as the worst day of the year for those of us who are childfree-not-by-choice.

For reasons I still can’t completely articulate, this has been the hardest holiday season for me yet. After a boisterous Thanksgiving with a houseful of young nieces and nephews, I slipped into a depressed funk as I anticipated a painfully quiet December. I forced myself to listen to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (so cheery, I wanted to smack someone), I baked cookies and gave them away, I chose to hang lights and make the house festive for me, even though it seemed pointless and pathetic. Several times I considered giving in to the darkness, donating all my keepsake ornaments to Goodwill, and spending today in bed with a jug of mulled spiced wine.

Instead, in a moment of pure inspiration, I chose to get quiet and listen. I lit a candle and prayed for light. I cried out my hurts and losses to a god who has heard it all many times before and still comforts without judgment. Having released some of my grief, I took a deep breath and invited Cynical Me to take a well-earned holiday. Then I invited Holy Me to give me a new perspective. And here’s what she said:

It’s not about a miracle baby, Love. That’s just the symbol. It’s really about the miracle rebirth of hope and faith. 

Oh, my. That’s exactly the gift I needed this Christmas, I just didn’t know how to ask for it. With tears streaming down my face, I asked for forgiveness for my lack of trust. I felt humbled by the abundance of good gifts I do have in my life, and I expressed my gratitude to God who has great things planned for me and delivers in ways I could never have imagined.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season—whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Al-Hirjra, or a tradition of your own making—it would be what I have received myself: a renewed sense of hope, a heart full of love, and peace within.

May you experience unexpected blessings today, dear sisters.

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

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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 Holiday Help December 11, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I don’t know what’s different about this year, but I’ve found myself capital-D Dreading the coming holiday season. I think I’m okay with my childfree status, I think I’m ready to create meaningful traditions that embrace my little family of two, I think I’ll be just fine at all the “family” sing-alongs, tree trimming parties, open houses, etc. Problem is, I don’t feel fine.

For so many years, I anticipated what holidays in my home would look like, and it’s just not that easy transitioning away from those dreams. So many of the activities I loved participating in as a child and young adult involved children, so what’s a childfree gal to do?

I turned to one of my favorite cheros (a heroine who happens to be childfree) for advice. Melanie Notkin is the founder of Savvy Auntie and the author of a book by the same title. (If you haven’t already, check out her fab Web site here.) In the “Holidays” section (page 124) she reminds me that “with the parents so often extrabusy…an auntie can actually help by making herself available to her nieces and nephews.” I know how being with my nieces and nephews takes me completely out of my head and gives me so much joy, so after perusing suggestions from Melanie and some of her readers, I started thinking about what I could do to creating some merriment and childlike wonderment for myself in the next several weeks. I could:

  • Offer to take the nieces out to shop for gifts for their parents.
  • Invite friends and their kids over for a cookie decorating (and eating) party.
  • Over Skype, read a classic holiday story—’Twas the Night Before Christmas or The Polar Express—to the children of faraway friends.
  • Bundle up my nephews and take them out to view the decorative lights in their neighborhood.
  • Host a hot chocolate tasting party (peppermint, cinnamon, and boozy for the big kids).
  • Invite other childfree friends over for Game Night—Charades, Celebrity, all those lively group games my family used to play when we got together.

I’m also thinking about spending extra time in the gym, reading a big juicy book, and watching all of the Harry Potter movies on DVD. I think these distraction options are healthier than fudge (which I’m still considering), and I’m also open to suggestions. I’d love to hear from you. How are you planning to face the holiday season this year?

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.

 

I Wish I Could have Told My Friends November 5, 2012

I am lucky to have some truly wonderful friends. I have a couple of friends in particular who were really there for me while I was going through the mess of trying to get pregnant and the subsequent coming-to-terms with not.

These women made me cups of tea and put an arm around my shoulder when I couldn’t hold in my tears. They met me for lunch and asked how things were going. They didn’t push the issue when they could see I didn’t want to talk and they didn’t try to help by offering solutions, based on zero knowledge, or sharing hopeful stories of miracle pregnancies. They seemed to know exactly how to be there for me, and yet when we talked about those times later, they admitted they were just as lost as I was and were winging it all along. I guess I just got lucky.

Other friends weren’t quite so lucky in their “winging” and I wish I could have helped them to help me. I wish I could have put into words what I needed from them, kind of a mini instruction book, so they wouldn’t feel so helpless. I wish I would have known then what I know now and been able to explain it to them.

I wish I’d known that what I was going through was a huge life-changing experience and that I would be a different person for it. I wish I could have told them that I’d still be the same old Lisa, but changed, just a bit.

I wish I’d known I would be okay in the end, no matter what the outcome.

I wish I could have explained that much of the time I didn’t want to talk about it because I was working so hard to keep my emotions at bay.

I wish I could have told them that some days I really wanted to talk about everything and tell them how angry and frustrated I was.

I wish they’d known I was lost.

I wish they’d known I was scared.

I wish they’d known that I could no longer see the future for myself beyond the end of my next cycle.

I wish they’d said, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

I wish I’d been brave enough to just cry when I needed to and I wish they would have known to just hand me Kleenex until I was done.

I wished they would have known how much I appreciated their friendship and how, even if I went astray for a while, I’d be back, stronger than ever and ready to be a good friend for them, too.

If you could have told your friends (and family) what you needed, what would you have said?

 

Maybe Baby, Maybe Not: What’s in a Name? October 4, 2012

You Seinfeld fans out there might remember an episode where George revealed that he had always wanted to name his first child “Seven” after Mickey Mantel’s jersey number. When his wife, Susan, tells her expectant cousin, Carrie, of George’s plan, Carrie becomes enamored with the name and “steals” it for her own child – much to George’s dismay. It’s a ridiculous storyline, but like every great Seinfeld script, it’s rooted in the truth of crazy we become over such silly things.

So what is it about baby names that makes us all go a little insane? Even without knowing whether I wanted kids or not, I’ve kept a list of names I loved in a journal for as long as I could remember. That list is now more than a decade old, and I still get a little annoyed when someone I know has a child and takes one of them. I’ve watched Penelope, Ava, Maximilian and Lucas go down the drain for me in the last year alone. And each one seems like some chance that’s just slipping by me.

Maybe it’s because naming another human being is a pretty monumentally important task, and you hold all the power in making the decision. You may not be able to control whether you have a boy or girl (unless you want to pay a few thousand dollars for gender selection), what kind of temperament they’ll have, or what career they choose. But by gum, you can decide what people will call them for the rest of their life!

Maybe it’s wanting to grab a piece of the mystery. Parents-to-be seem to be keeping their baby names pretty close to the vest these days. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want anyone to talk them out of it or taint it for them by saying they, “I went to school with a [insert name] and he was a complete jerk.”, But sometimes it seems like it’s all just part of whipping up this dramatic froth for the big reveal in the birth announcement.

Or maybe there’s less sinister forces at work, like a desire to honor a grandparent or use an old family name. I’ve always loved the idea of having a boy named Hayes to keep my mother’s maiden name alive. And I can only imagine the look on her face if I told her that her grandson was going to carry on her family name; she’d be so blown away and touched. If I don’t have kids, I’ll never be able to make that grand gesture.

And what are those of us without babies to do with all our dream names? Yes, we can use them on our pets. But little Wolfgang (“Wolfie”) is so much funnier on a human than on an Alaska Malamute, and would make no sense whatsoever for a Calico. I suppose I’ll just keep crossing names off the list and try to be happy that my friends have had such good taste in naming their kids. Or maybe I’ll be like George, chasing them through the maternity ward corridors, trying up until the very last minute to wrestle the name back. That does seem the more likely scenario.