Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

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?

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Thinking About My Old Age October 29, 2012

The question often seems to come up of, “What’s going to become of me when I’m old? Who’s going to take care of me if I don’t have children?” It’s a question that rattles around in my brain more often than I’d like, and my answer is always the same: “I have absolutely no idea.”

Given that my husband is 15 years my senior and my family lives on a different continent, I am facing the statistically real possibility that I will be someday be alone with no blood relatives within a 6,000-mile radius of me. I’m thinking that as long as I remain physically and fiscally fit, I’ll get long well enough. I have friends and interests, not to mention a job that doesn’t tie me to any particular geographic location, so I could choose to move closer to my family if that’s what I wanted to do.

But what happens if I’m not healthy, either physically or fiscally? What happens if I need care that I can’t afford to pay for and there’s no one around who gives enough of a damn to look after me? What will become of the poor, impoverished, childless widow then?

These are the thoughts that pop into my head, and honestly, it’s depressing. If I allowed these thoughts to take hold, it could be paralyzing. I could see myself planning for this possibility, saving every penny for my future healthcare and frantically collecting friends in the hopes that, in my time of need, one of them will be a friend indeed. I could see me putting my current life on hold for the sake of avoiding a future life alone, and I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to get all Pollyanna about this. I am thinking about this future possibility. I am trying hard to keep myself healthy, I’m nurturing my friendships, and I’m trying to be smart about my finances. But I’m not looking at my friendships with an eye as to who will take care of me (that would be weird, for one thing) and I’m not living now for the possibility of my future, because it might not happen that way.

Anyone who’s ever made plans for the future and then watched them fail to come to fruition (is that anyone here?) knows that life has no guarantees. Yes, statistically I should outlive Mr. Fab and someday be alone, but in reality I might not. Yes, theoretically people with children will be taken care of in their old age, but if you’ve ever visited a retirement home, you’ll know that’s not a given either. In fact I wonder if people with children aren’t sometimes more alone because their friends assume their kids are visiting and taking care of them? As a friend, I am more likely to step in to help a friend who doesn’t have family than one who has a partner and family close by. Likewise, I hope that my friends will be there for me, when needed.

So yes, I’m aware that I may need a plan for the future, and I am thinking about what my options might be. But there’s no way of knowing what my future will be, so I don’t want to fritter away my present worrying about it.

P.S. After writing this post I came across the image above and it made me laugh. Who knows, 40 years from now I could still be sitting here blogging about how to get along without children. Hopefully by then I’ll have it all figured out. 🙂

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Why I Can’t Grieve October 9, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

It’s impossible to put on mascara when you can’t stop crying.

I learned this little truism the day after we put our sweet 14-year-old dog to sleep. I’d spent the day intermittently sobbing and whimpering—set off by her empty bowl, her favorite spot in my office, now vacant, and tiny reminders of my everyday companion. I had pushed off most work-related tasks, but still had to pull myself together for an evening event I needed to attend. With a lot of deep breathing, as well as promises to myself that I could continue crying my eyes out later, I managed to make myself presentable.

I’m not new to devastating losses. Almost daily, I still think of the best friend who died tragically when she was just 20, my beloved grandmother and “hot date” for movies who passed in 1993, and my father-in-law who left us 914 days ago. But the outpouring of emotions I experienced after losing Scout was a new breed of grief. Guilt, gratitude, longing, regret, relief, loneliness, heartache. At times it consumed me, as, I think, it should. And that got me thinking….

As a woman who is childfree by circumstances, I have never fully grieved the loss of my dream of motherhood. For 25 years or so, I’ve been in this crazy dance between longing and hoping, praying and wishing, denial, regret, jealousy, despair, having faith and losing faith. I used to beg God for a neon sign—seriously—a message so clear that said either “You will have children, so stick it out!” or “You aren’t going to have children. Get on with your life!” And the years went by. And the years went by. And here I am. I am 46 years old, childfree by circumstance (don’t you dare accuse me of making a “choice”), and I describe myself as “mostly at peace” with my status. But there are days when I still think “What if….”

I won’t trivialize the pain of our sisters who are childfree by infertility. I’ve held too many friends and sobbed with them over miscarriages, failed IVF treatments, and the loss of their dreams, and I know too well that their paths are filled with heartbreak. But because LWB is a place where we can safely share our deepest hurts, please allow me to say that there are times when I’ve envied their ability to grieve. My friends had defining moments when they could let it all out, when they could ask for support, when support was offered even when it was not asked for. Think of my journey like the quiet drip-drip of a faucet; it’s imperceptible, so no one calls in the plumber, but over time it causes the same amount of catastrophic damage as a flood. I have never had a moment of finality, never experienced that intense period of grief, and on some very deep and possibly damaged level, I wish I could.

Selfish? Perhaps. But hear me out. I know that grieving is necessary. The sobbing period winds down, you put your experiences into perspective, and then you move on. For I so would like to be able to move on. I want to embrace this path I’ve been given and find new purpose in my life. I’d like to feel that the wanderings of my childbearing years were not just wasted time. And I fear that, if I skip past the crucial grieving phase, I’ll never get to the phase of accepting and, ultimately, to that day when I can feel content with my circumstances.

P.S. Grief is a topic we’re addressing head-on here at LWB. If you are feeling stuck, consider signing up for the upcoming LWB Mentoring Program that starts this evening. You’ll find more information here.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s wrapping up a memoir about her journey to coming to peace with being childfree (and clearly it’s a work in progress).

 

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.

 

Growing Up Together September 21, 2012

Last weekend I got to spend the day with one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’ve mentioned her before; she’s the friend I’ve known since I was about four, have remained in touch with over the years, and who reached out across the 6,000 miles that now separate us to make plans to reconnect in person. In the past year, we’ve managed to get together somewhere in the world on four different occasions.

As we walked around San Francisco last weekend, she hooked her arm in mine and said, “I’m so glad we get to grow up together.”

I laughed at first. We’re both 42 (and a half.) Surely we’re done growing up. We’ve shared so many life experiences over the years and we’ve traveled together through relationship ups and downs and major life upheavals. We’ve each dealt with health issues that have changed the course of our lives, and both of us have families of two. Over the years we’ve shared stories and laughs, and we’ve shopped, eaten, tested cocktails, and hiked. We’ve been through so much together and there is still so much more ahead of us. We are still growing up and I am very glad that we get to do it together, even if not always in the same corner of the world.

Who are you growing up with? Who do you sometimes take for granted, but who is always there, growing up alongside you? Give that person a shout-out today and let them know how glad you are to have them in your life.

 

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

 

Guest Post: Miracle Stories August 30, 2012

This post was originally published on April 20, 2012.

By Quasi-Momma

In responding to the April 4th Whiny Wednesday post, a few of us commented on the frustrations of having to deal with the inevitable, “Have you considered … adoption, fostering, egg donation, or surrogates?” It is annoying.  Why do other people think (a) they have the answers and (b) that we haven’t considered whatever “solution” they are proffering?

The worst is the suggestion followed by the “miracle story.”

I was extremely surprised when I got such a story from a friend.  She is a new mom who suffered several miscarriages on her way to mommy-hood. I am happy for her, and still consider her a sister-in-arms, even though she’s crossed over.

I was sitting in her living room broken-hearted over recent news of a pregnancy in the family, when the conversation turned to the financial barriers of adoption.  She launched into this story of a friend who was an obstetrics nurse who managed to adopt a baby from one of those “I didn’t know I was pregnant” patients that you hear about on TV, but never quite believe they exist.  The total price tag was around $6,000. What an incredible stroke of luck.

 

I honestly did not know what to do with that information.  What was I supposed to take from it?  I am supposed to camp out in emergency rooms waiting for a mom who might not want her baby?   Seriously, I love my friend, but this was not a helpful story.

I think that Americans are groomed to expect a happy ending. I personally blame the entertainment industry for this.  All problems are resolved in Hollywood.  No problem is insurmountable.   It is so pervasive that when people encounter real life scenarios that can’t be fixed, they are confounded, and that’s when the suggestions and the stories start a-flyin’.

What these well-intentioned people don’t understand is their stories usually have the opposite effect than what was intended.  Instead of feeling inspired, we feel deflated.  Why someone else and not us? What are we doing wrong? Have we not tried hard enough? Are we unworthy?

I do believe in God and the power of faith and prayer, but with that comes surrendering to the fact that our destiny may not look the way we envisioned it.  God is not a cosmic ATM. If we all got the miracles we prayed for, everyone would be a lottery winner, right?

We all have different paths, and they are beautiful in their own way. Part of our struggle with childlessness is embracing it for what it is worth and finding the beauty in ourselves and our lives with or without baby. It is not an easy path, and, unfortunately, there is no easy way for us to make others realize that.

Luckily, we do have an amazing community here. One that reminds us we are not alone, and that in itself is something I consider a small miracle.

Quasi-Momma, whose real name is Susan, is not quite a mom, but really wants to be. In her blog, Quasimomma, she explores her struggles with pregnancy loss and facing childlessness while grappling with the ups and downs of step family life.

 

Meeting Other Childfree People August 27, 2012

Life Without Baby is taking a short hiatus. Please enjoy some favorite posts from the last two-and-a-half years. We’ll be back to normal next week.

This post was originally published on April 19, 2011

Recently, a reader posted this comment:

“Do you have any tips on how to find people without kids? I went to a RESOLVE meeting once and made friends with a fellow infertile… who got pregnant the next month.”

I suspect we’ve all had that feeling of being cheated on by someone we hoped would be an ally, while at the same time being glad the person got what she really wanted. So how do you find other childless people to spend time with?

Here are a few of the ways I’ve found kindred spirits:

Activities at non-kid-friendly times

I go to an early morning exercise boot camp three days a week. It starts at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. which is a tough time for anyone, but especially for people with very young or school-age kids. Most of the people in the group don’t have children and I’ve been going for long enough that I’ve made a small circle of childless friends. What’s great is that our primary connection is exercise, not childlessness.

Stealing or borrowing other friends’ childless friends

Quite a few of my friendships have come about through mutual friends. I’ve been invited to a dinner or barbecue, made my way around the room, making polite conversation, until I’ve met someone I’ve clicked with and discovered they don’t have children either. I have several childless friends who were introduced to me by mutual friends with children. In some cases the original friend has drifted away and the new friend and I have grown closer.

Groups and clubs

Just getting out and meeting people in general is a really good way to ultimately meet other childless people. Joining a group or club relating to your interests or hobbies means you automatically have something in common. I’ve been in book clubs, running clubs, and various classes. Over time, I’ve attached to certain members of the group, and just because of schedules alone, the childless members have ultimately gravitated to one another.

Childless and child-free groups

I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I’ve considered it. No Kidding! is an international social network for people without children. They have chapters all over the country and arrange social events regularly. If there’s one near you, this seems like a great way to meet people.

Another idea is using Meetup.com. You can sign up and state your interest in meeting other childfree people in your area.

We also have a Groups page on this site. Try starting a group for your local area and see if other people join. Hopefully you’ll find at least one other person who lives close enough to meet in person, and our membership is growing daily.

If anyone else has ideas on how to meet other childless singles or couples, please post them. I know that there are several other members who would love to find people they can connect with in person as well as just here online.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About the Dark Side August 21, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

This post was originally published on July 18, 2011

“I’m pregnant!” my friend gleefully announces.

And I think, Well, f*ck me six ways to Sunday, but I instead I jump up and embrace her and say, “Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you!”

Yup, another one has gone over to the Dark Side. My playmate, my buddy, my date for tea and chick-flicks will soon switch discussion topics from the last great novel she read to the merits of cloth versus disposable diapers and the challenges of getting into the “right” preschool/private school/ballet studio. While I bravely continue to pursue political movements, investing options, and the hottest new tapas restaurant this side of the Bay, she’ll be focusing on PTA politics, college funds, and how to get her kid to eat green vegetables.

Before long, the excuses for missing lunch dates (sick baby, sick kid, soccer games) will grow tiresome. She’ll kindly include me in the first few get-togethers with her new friends from the mommies group. I’ll make polite conversation when I’m invited to baby showers and first birthday parties. But eventually I’ll get lost in the mist as she gets sucked into more and more “family” events and senses how much more she has in common with the other reproducers. “Whatever happened to your friend Kathy?” they might ask. “Oh, she never had kids.” “Oh,” they will say knowingly. Or so I imagine. This is worse than being the last kid picked for teams. This is being told you can’t even play the game, but if you want, you can watch from the bleachers.

And I’m pissed. But mostly I’m lonely. It’s really, really hard to make new friends when you’re over the age of 40, and it’s that much harder when, like me, you leave the city you’ve lived in for those first four decades and move some place where you know no one but your fiancé. You have to make a determined effort to get out, try new classes, start new groups, and hope to find a connection. It’s not unlike dating, and it can be really exciting, but mostly scary and discouraging. But you carry on, remembering the closeness you once shared with old friends who, over time, could read your thoughts and finish your sentences.

Since moving here three years ago, several of the women who I thought could become part of my new posse now are new mothers. I didn’t know they were trying; we hadn’t known each other that long, so the topic never came up. A couple had been trying for years, and became pregnant shortly after meeting me. My friend Lisa found this hilarious and suggested I offer myself out as a fertility icon: Become friends with me, and you’ll be knocked up within 3 months—guaranteed!

After the fourth announcement, I broke down and told my fiancé how crushed I was, how broken-hearted, how devastating this was to my developing social life. He laughed at me, pointing out how ridiculous I sounded for getting so overly dramatic and self-pitying. And he’s right. Because, really, I am happy for my friends. And it won’t be as isolating as I imagine, it will just be different.

When I get the “good” news, when I sink into one of my funks, I fully realize that I am the one who has gone over to the Dark Side. But for a short while, I need to lose my perspective and my sense of humor, wallow in self-pity, and mourn the loss of my friend. Because underneath my happiness for her, I still hurt for myself.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. It’s raining today, and she’s feeling blue.

 

Facebook’s Skewed Perspective August 20, 2012

This post was originally published on April 1, 2011.

In the news this week was a warning from doctors about teen depression and Facebook. Listed among the “unique aspects of Facebook that make it a particularly tough social landscape to navigate” were the “in-your-face status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times,” leaving some kids to “feel even worse if they think they don’t measure up.”

If you’re childless-not-by-choice and spend any time at all on Facebook, these painful feelings might sound all too familiar. There’s nothing quite like a pregnancy announcement or cute kid pictures to remind you of what you don’t have.

But take heart!

The report is very quick to point out that Facebook “provides a skewed perspective of what’s really going on.” I think that’s true. While there are some people who clearly don’t give a second (or even a first) thought to what they post on Facebook, I know that I am very aware of how many people can read my posts and the different levels of “friendship” I have out there. Because of this, I’m always careful to manage my public persona.

If I’m having a crappy day and life is just the pits, I stay off Facebook; I don’t post my misery to the world. On the other hand, the pictures I do post are usually of my best days, out in the sunshine, with my husband, in some exciting locale, living a dream life!

I think that the majority of people post this way – we put our best Facebook faces forward – so it’s easy to look at a small sliver, a snapshot of someone else’s life and see it as perfect. In other words, it’s easy to look at a portrait of a happy family or read a jubilant pregnancy announcement and perceive that someone else has EVERYTHING we want.

But life just isn’t as simple as that.

If you’re at the stage in your journey where seeing some else’s children or baby news tips you over the edge, I strongly recommend giving Facebook the elbow for a while. But that’s just my opinion. There’s been a really great discussion on the forums about how to deal with Facebook. Take a look to see how other readers dealing with it.