Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Welcome Back September 3, 2012

Mum’s 80th birthday bash

I’m back. In some ways it feels as if I’ve been away months, and yet the time has flown by, too. It took quite a bit of coaxing to get me back to my desk, and writing this post is my first “back to normal” activity.

I had a great month away and am glad I forced myself to really stop working (for the most part) and spend a little time alone with my own thoughts. I feel refreshed, with my priorities in order, and (just about) ready to throw myself back into life, work, and, of course, blogging.

My trip to the U.K. was wonderful and my mum’s 80th birthday was a huge success. As an added bonus, I got to enjoy watching the Olympics on home turf (although not actually in London) and to cheer one of my hometown athletes, Jessica Ennis, to a heptathlon gold medal. It was inspiring to be caught up in the Olympic spirit.

I also got to enjoy time with my family and caught up with a couple of dear friends. It’s always a little odd to be around my extended family as I feel my childlessness more keenly when I’m surrounded by talk of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I’m more aware of being the odd one out and of bringing a different dynamic to the family because I don’t have children to talk about. The family tree my mum has hung on her wall reminds me again of the grander scheme of my family history and the significance of my own nubby branch, that stops two generations before those of some of my older cousins.

The antidote for my melancholy comes from my two long-time friends, who are also childfree. The topic of family and children almost always comes up in our conversations, even if just in passing, and it’s good to talk face-to-face with someone who gets me.  Our conversations don’t linger on this topic and we’re soon talking about everything from hiking to books and politics to our aging parents. And we laugh…the best medicine of all.

So, now I’m back, I’m ready to shake things up a bit around here. I have some new topics to share with you, some new ideas for the blog, and hopefully a facelift (for the blog, not me.) I’ll look forward to having these conversations with you soon.

Jessica Ennis’ gold post box

English summer hike, part I

English summer hike, part II

English summer hike, part III

 

How Does Your Company Define Family? August 9, 2012

This post was originally published on May 3, 2012.

By Maybe Lady Liz

In my B.B. life (Before Blog), I worked in Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company. Part of my job was communicating our benefits package to employees, prospective employees, and surveys like the Top 100 Companies to Work For. The magic words to get ourselves on that Top 100 list and snag potential new hires? Family friendly.

Sounds nice, huh? Brings to mind things like flex time, telecommuting, and additional days off. And these are all true. For parents. Flex time means you can leave early to pick your kids up from school. Telecommuting means it’s not a problem for you to work from home when your child has a runny nose. And additional days off means two days off each year for employees to attend their child’s school-related activities.

Of course, there’s nothing in the fine print that says these benefits are exclusive to parents. But try asking your boss to stay home because your husband has a sore throat, or to leave early for a romantic dinner out and compare that to the reaction a mom receives when she asks to come in late to attend her kid’s award ceremony. Parents who take time off for these activities are revered for their family values – and typically aren’t expected to make it up. Those without kids who try to access the same perks are dubbed lazy and irresponsible, despite the fact they spend much of their time covering the workload for (some, not all) missing-in-action parents.

So why do they call these benefits family friendly when they don’t encompass all types of families? The nice snappy sound of alliteration? People do love alliteration. But no, I think it’s that people don’t really associate the word family with a childless/free couple. With 20% of women aged 45 not having kids, isn’t it time we re-evaluate the definition of that word and start structuring our benefits programs accordingly?

Most of us work pretty hard at some pretty stressful jobs. Those of us with only one or two weeks of vacation could really use an additional day off now and then to feel like our jobs haven’t completely consumed our lives. Parents take that opportunity on a regular basis, to say nothing of the six weeks – several months mothers take off for the birth of each child. Childfree/less women have a special challenge to ensure they find meaning in their lives through something other than the built-in mission of motherhood. Some find it through their careers, but for those who don’t, shouldn’t they be afforded the same rights as parents to pursue the things most meaningful to them?

It’s not all bad news – there are some progressive companies out there offering ala carte benefits options to employees that ensure single or childfree/less employees get an equal slice of the benefits pie, and aren’t stuck subsidizing the cost of other people’s children’s insurance. But I imagine we’re still a long ways away from the Fortune 500 shifting their views on the definition of a real family.

Maybe Lady Liz is blogging her way through the decision of whether to create her own Cheerio-encrusted ankle-biters, or remain Childfree. You can follow her through the ups and downs at Maybe Baby, Maybe Not.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Privacy July 31, 2012

This post was originally published on January 14th, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

Earlier this week I wrote about inappropriate chitchat, and my heart breaks over the comments (several came offline). Readers shared some of the horrible, though possibly well-intentioned, things people have said to them that added salt to the already devastating wounds of infertility.

“When are you going to have kids?”

“So which one of you is the reason you can’t have children?”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

We’ve all heard variations on this theme, and I don’t know if it ever gets easier to come up with an appropriate response. The bigger issue I think we haven’t yet discussed is when—if ever—to tell people, and who we should tell, versus our right to privacy.

How are you handling this? Did you break the news to a few key people, expecting them to spread the message down the line? Did you tell just close family and friends, hoping to gain their support? Did you include a paragraph in your annual holiday newsletter? Or have you kept it to yourself?

Speaking of privacy, if you’re uncomfortable openly posting your thoughts or concerns on the blog, there are members-only discussions going on in the forums. You’ll find comfort, compassion, empathy, and support here. I hope you’ll reach out. Meanwhile, consider yourself cyber-hugged.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She believes “Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.”

 

Whiny Wednesday: Family Obligations June 20, 2012

My whine today is for my friend who was planning to attend a three-day conference for her personal passion this summer, but now has to go on vacation with her extended family of in-laws.

To make matters worse, she and her husband had no input into the destination decision, and so my friend, who does not have children of her own, will be spending her vacation time on a “family-friendly” cruise.

Needless to say, she is not thrilled.

It’s Whiny Wednesday, your chance to gripe about matters big or small.

 

Dealing With Our Scars June 14, 2012

By Quasi-Momma

How much time do you spend concealing “what is?”   As I begin my road toward healing, it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

I have tiny scars on my chin from blemishes. I don’t like them, so every morning I dig into my arsenal of beauty products — foundation, concealer, powder, and the like — to make them appear like tinier, lighter versions of what they are.  This enables me to leave my house feeling a little less self-conscious.

The time I spend performing this ritual allows me to practice hiding my emotional scars as well. I take stock of how I’m feeling, rehearse my mask of calmness, and identify potential triggers that might set my heart reeling. It’s a routine I haven’t quite yet mastered. With relatively fresh wounds, it is difficult to maintain composure at times, especially in the face of cherub-like cheeks, rounded bellies, and all things that radiate motherhood. I am no Lady Gaga.  Yes, you CAN read my poker face.  I need more practice.

Last month as I was getting ready for an unavoidable family reunion and bracing myself for being around a pregnant relative, I wondered aloud to Hubs if it would just be easier to wear a little sign around my neck. It would be like a “Don’t Feed the Bears” sign, only mine would read, “Don’t ask me about [insert relative’s name here]’s pregnancy.”  He shook his head sympathetically, laughed and said with his best southern-boy charm, “That ain’t right.”  I agreed, and then offered to make him one too.

Joking aside, Hubs is correct. Indiscriminate expressions of hurt are not appropriate. Everyone has their own burdens, and our issues belong to us. We simply can’t expect everyone to sympathize with our plight. Not many people truly can. Selective concealment is a necessary evil.

This leads me to wonder how we can know when it is appropriate to reveal our emotional scars to the outside world. What yardstick is used to decide when we show them and to whom? How do we prepare ourselves for the reactions of those who just don’t “get it?”  Do your scars protect you?  Do they give you strength? Or do you no longer consider them as such?

Quasi-Momma is not quite a mom, but has always wanted to be.  In her blog, Quasi-momma, she explores her struggles with pregnancy loss and facing childlessness while grappling with the ups and downs of step family life.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Traditional Families May 22, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting. White, upper-middle-class, staunchly Republican. Parents still married to each other (celebrating 50 years this summer). Dad worked for the same company for 47 years; Mom stayed home to raise three all-American kids. Look at a snapshot of any holiday celebration, and you’ll see us gathered around the dining room table, with flowers from Mom’s garden in the centerpiece, a golden turkey nesting in a great-grandmother’s platter, and everyone dressed with a smile. Picture-perfect.

The flowers, turkey, and smiles are the same in contemporary photos, but we’ve added a few new players. My brother married his college sweetheart and they introduced four beautiful daughters. My sister went off to college and came home a Democrat. Then she went off to graduate school and finally figured out she was a lesbian. A few years later, she joined her partner in a commitment ceremony, and they welcomed two boys with contributions from a sperm donor, a “donor daddy.” I was the lone ranger for many years, the only single person at the table, till I met and married my husband in my mid-40s. He is African-American, and we are childfree.

While growing up and well into adulthood, I never imagined there was any other kind of family for me outside of the traditional model that raised me. I had every expectation that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and create a home and family in her image. I held tightly to that illusion, through many unfulfilling relationships and socially awkward encounters (“Why aren’t you married?” “Don’t you like children?”). I think it’s a miracle that my “right” family was revealed to me and that I am able to embrace it.

I would argue that our society’s definition of a “traditional” family is flawed. Certainly census statistics show that single-parent homes, adults living alone, and mixed-race families are more the norm than marketing directors would have us believe. I look down our street here in San Francisco (and, admittedly, we are a liberal and open community), and I see this reflected back to me through our neighbors’ homes where multiple generations, languages, races, and genders commingle without special notice.

Here in the childfree community, we’re often made to feel that our families are “nontraditional,” which translates to “less than” or “incomplete.” This way of thinking is so judgmental, so hurtful, and so unnecessary. If you’re single, you can create your own family among close and supportive friends. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, you know that it takes only two to make your family. Other people expand their families to include caretaking of nieces and nephews, elderly relatives and friends, or beloved pets.

The “nontraditional” extended family I am part of today is a beautiful thing, defined by love, acceptance, and respect. In my own home, I feel blessed to be one of a family of two, which we augment by sharing our table with friends who have become family. This is my family, this is my new traditional, and I think it’s perfect.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is working on a memoir about her journey to embracing life without baby.

 

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.

 

M-Day Safe Haven May 11, 2012

I’ve been reading your comments this week and I can see that many of you are battening down the hatches in preparation for this weekend’s “festivities.” RESOLVE got onboard, too, and sent out an email, with some positive tips on coping with the day.

These are good tips, but the problem is they’re all positive and don’t include the option to stay in bed until Monday rolls around. And I say this with my tongue nowhere near my cheek.

I think the key to getting through this weekend is self-preservation, whatever that looks like for you. For me, this once would have meant staying home and avoiding any social interactions at all. This year, it will mean trying to have a pleasant, ordinary Sunday with perhaps a walk or bike ride. And while I’m now in a position to handle a casually cast “Happy Mother’s Day” from a stranger, I will still be avoiding restaurants and stores where I might get pulled into a Mother’s Day mêlée (like the time our local breakfast eatery was handing out flowers to all the mothers and I left empty-handed. Not nice.)

I’ve been really inspired lately by the way this community has rallied around one another and offered support to other members in need. You are an amazing group of women and I am so glad to have the chance to get to know you just a little.

Over on the private site, there’s a Mother’s Day Safe Haven forum that started up a couple of years ago. If this weekend starts to get the better of you, please consider heading over there for support or just to vent. You do have to make it through this weekend, but you don’t have to do it alone.

I’m sending good wishes out to you today and I’ll look forward to seeing you back here on Monday, when the mommy madness will be over and we can hopefully get back to our regularly scheduled programing.

 

Duck, Weave, or Cover? May 10, 2012

By Quasi-momma

Around mid-April, my mind starts thinking about that scary little day coming up in May. You know the one. The one that makes us cringe ever so slightly. The one we might all like to avoid. Dare I say its name?  It’s Mother’s Day.

As a stepmom, M-day has always been tough for me. The first year after marrying Hubs, I had expectations that I would at least be honored in some small way.  After all, I did perform the duties of a mom, so I deserve a little something, right?  Wrong.  It came and went without even so much as a word in my direction from anyone: not my Hubs, not my in-laws, and not my Skid. It was like a jab to the face.

Add a couple pregnancy losses and several negative pregnancy tests over the years, and M-day packs a one-two punch. You can safely say that the day has lost its luster for me.

To give him credit, Hubs finally did get the memo last year. He took me on a special outing the Saturday before to thank me for all I did as well as to acknowledge what we’ve lost. It was quiet, private, and meaningful: enough to get me through the indignity of the next day.

But this year, a final uppercut has been added to M-day’s combo: there’s a pregnancy in the family. I will now be the only female not honored as a Mom. It’s threatening a knock-out. I need a strategy.

Right now, I’m in heavy negotiations to bow out of this round. I know my limits. I’m just starting to deal with the possibility that I may never have a child of my own, and I’m not up to this “holiday.”  Yet, I fear that my absence may bruise some egos, and the fallout may not be worth it.  So I’m turning to you, my dear community, for advice. How do you get through it? (Feel free to whine too. By all means, let’s vent!)

The one thing I do know for sure is that extreme self-care will be required. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the urge we feel to explain or defend our situations, whether they are by choice or not. This day will have our guards up higher than usual.  So please be good to yourself.

Quasi-momma, also known as “Bruisin’ Susan” explores her thoughts and feelings on her own struggles with childlessness, pregnancy loss and stepfamily life on her blog http://quasimomma.wordpress.com. She prefers not to disclose her weight class. It’s no one’s business.

 

Whiny Wednesday: It’s Your Turn Next May 9, 2012

A friend posted this picture on Facebook and it made me laugh out loud.

Then it got me wondering how this could work for those women (and it’s usually women) at baby showers and family gatherings who unwittingly assume that yours will be the next belly to be celebrated and adored. I haven’t come up with an appropriate equivalent yet, but I’m working on it.

It’s Whiny Wednesday and I know that for those of you in countries that celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, this week could also lovingly be called Hell Week. So, here’s your chance to let off steam among friends. Feel free to vent at will.