Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Uncovering Grief: Writing the Story of Your Day March 15, 2012

By Shannon Calder

Before writing, I’d sidestepped my sorrow, not knowing how to move through it. The terrible ache, I believed, would always be there. Writing changed that.”

 – Susan Zimmerman

6:45pm – 3/12/12

5 years ago at 6:45pm my mother’s body was wheeled out of her house, the same house where I sit writing this column, in her office.

Grief clouds everything. I had an important interview to go to today, an errand at the post office, a client to see, this column to do, and a psychological assessment to write. My loss was apparent to me in all these bits of business. It gave them all great meaning. Nobody really thinks about how this is the day, the week, the month, where I still feel that I am moving through tear gas. Five years later, with eyes wet and muscles weak, much of my life, the things I do, the house I live in, has great meaning. It creates the kind of richness in my existence that does not feel man made. People may think I’m over it, past it or that I don’t grieve anymore. But everyone here knows that grief stays with you. And I believe that grief bestows meaning.

I haven’t acted out on anyone today but I know my significant other has had moments in the last few weeks where he looked at me as if I was out of my body. There are times when people ask me what is wrong and I say nothing, when I mostly want to say, ‘my mother, my favorite person, died 5 years ago.’ But if I did say that, say my truth, I would say it to everyone, all the time. I don’t say it because I don’t want it to take me over every day.

I have grieved in writing this. Story predates psychology. Write the story of your day. Today was about me sharing a story of this day with you, this is basically how it’s done. You may have feelings while doing this, indulge them, I did. I didn’t craft this into the best writing ever. I wrote what I needed to write and I feel a relief to have shared this day’s story with you.

I hope you will do the same.

The act of writing brings a structure and order to the chaos of grief. It taps into the healing power of your own unconscious. By giving voice to fears, anger, and despair, by letting go of old dreams and hope; our self-healing powers come into play. The soul knows what it needs to heal. Through writing, it will lead you where you need to go.

 – Susan Zimmerman

Be Well,

Shannon

Contact me at: Shannon [at] LifeWithoutBaby [dot] com

Resource: Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and loss Through Writing by Susan Zimmerman, writer, lecturer and author.

Shannon Calder is a writer, psychotherapist, and survivor of grief. She has an MA in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and is currently in a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. She works in private practice treating people suffering from a wide spectrum of symptoms. 


 

It Got Me Thinking…About Grieving Our Treasures March 13, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My wedding dress and veil hung off the back of my closet door for four months until I finally got my act together and donated everything to Brides Against Breast Cancer. It felt like the right thing to do. After all, I hadn’t loved the dress in a weepy way that so many brides do about their gowns; it was flattering, it got the job done, but I didn’t feel a strong sentimental attachment to it. I knew I’d never wear it again, although my husband suggested I save it to wear to the opera, and I had to remind him that we’d both slept through the only opera we’d ever attended together. Plus, the fabric couldn’t be dyed, so it was never going to look like anything but a wedding dress. I also had no illusions about saving it for someone else to wear on her big day, knowing each of my nieces will find her perfect style and silhouette when her time comes.

So I was unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me when I decided to look at it one last time before tucking it into the shipping box. I stood in front of my full-length mirror and admired the gently gathered folds of satin that accentuated my waist, the slightly dipped sweetheart neckline that flattered my bust, the long bands that my sister and best friend spent half an hour braiding in and out, adjusting just so, to create a romantic corset down my back. I tucked the comb into my hair and floated the cathedral-length veil around me. The moment was my own, just me and my ensemble, and that’s when it hit me.

There will be no daughter or granddaughter to share this with in years to come. No one will ask to take my gown out of storage, to reminisce, to ooh and ahh. No one will care to find out if it still fits me in 10 or 20 years, and no one will join me a generation from now as we double over laughing that this was considered “in style” back in my day, like I did when I revisited friends’ gowns from the ’70s and ’80s. No one will slip tiny feet into my wedding shoes, disappear under yards of tulle, and giggle as she imagines how one day she might walk down the aisle to marry the love of her life.

It’s not so much the gown that causes me grief, but the cold, hard loss of the future memories I’ll never have. It’s not the giving away of a treasured thing that hurts, but the giving up of so many other dreams.

Shannon is now writing an insightful column for us about facing the grieving process that comes with being childfree. She’s a brilliant and compassionate woman, and I encourage you to check out what she has to say. In a recent column, “How Does Grief Feel to You?”, she invited us to share what our grief looks like. I had to sit with that for a while, to let it sink in, but now I can answer: My grief is a small girl draped in layers of ivory satin and tulle.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.

 

Uncovering Grief: How Does Grief Feel to You? March 1, 2012

By Shannon Calder

 

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.

~ William Shakespeare

What is grief?

First you have to decide that you have lost something. This is sometimes where people get stuck. A patient said to me, “I am losing my keys constantly.” Knowing this patient’s situation I asked, “What have you really lost?” This was a moment of realization for her. I saw it in the stunned way she looked at me. Her reply was “my hope.”

Sometimes loss is obvious and sometimes it is not.  Simply, you need to step out of your resistance and denial or simple unconsciousness, decide you have lost something, something you needed, something you need to grieve.

Paula D’Arcy, author of When People Grieve wrote, “Grief is the heart’s response to any deep loss.” I would argue that the most obvious home for grief is the heart but that grief is housed in our body, spirit, mind and soul. This is how someone can lose something and not be conscious of their need to grieve for it. Be mindful of your inside landscape and you will be mindful of what it needs.

For me grief feels like something inside of me is trying to drown me and the one thing that kept me from drowning is the thing I have just lost. Then, a sense of powerlessness pervades. I know that grief will not drown me literally and that I am not powerless literally however, my imagination knows what it knows.

How does grief feel to you?

I would like to suggest you not only use your words for this. Words are often where most of us feel quite comfortable and they also get us up in our brains. We’re looking for what gets us down in our gut, in our soul.

So I’m going to suggest you share your words here in the comment section but perhaps those words can describe your process of what your grief looks like, feels like, smells like, etc. You can look in magazines for pictures, on television for characters or movies that touch this deeper emotion in you, look for art work or artists, athletics, pieces of music and don’t forget pieces of music without words, those pieces that touch you in that guttural way.

If you become afraid, step out of the place you are in with these sensory triggers and breathe into a single breath of consciousness within you and do something comforting or even ritualistic like checking your email, something that gets you back into your brain. Then when you feel like working with grief again, go back to your senses.

And please, let us all know what you did and how it went.

Be Well,

Shannon

Contact me at: Shannon [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

Resource:

Paula D’Arcy, author of When People Grieve, is an internationally known expert in grief counseling and pulls from her personal resources of having lost her husband and daughter

 

Uncovering Grief February 16, 2012

This week, I’m very pleased to introduce a new Guest Blogger.

Shannon Calder is a psychotherapist, specializing in grief and loss. In this, her new column, she’ll be addressing some of the issues many of us are facing as we look towards a life without children. I hope you’ll find her guidance helpful.

Uncovering Grief

By Shannon Calder

“If we carry our storms like actors pretending to be brave, each swallowed tear will fill our hearts like a bag of stones.”

– Alison Asher

Grief is a sacred time, a sacred act and it is the way we honor the importance of what we lost. The amount of grief we feel is in direct proportion to the importance of the person or idea we have lost. It is an honor to grieve.

My name is Shannon and I am a psychotherapist and a survivor of grief. I phrase it that way because surviving something indicates that it is still with you, in you, but that you pulled through and gained strength and meaning from it. I am here to remind you that grief does not evaporate, but like the wind, it breezes in and then recedes, leaving you to respond in its wake. How fast it recedes and how much havoc it wreaks on your life is the result of how you respond to it. I am here to help you with that and to listen, because grief is with us no matter how long ago we lost something or someone.

I am all for moving on, moving up, moving around, being positive and letting go. Every now and then I may discuss these very ideas. However, my purpose, whether it is on this blog or in my profession, is to address where people are in the moment and to speak to who lives and breathes underneath the persona that we show the world. I think we can agree that we don’t always feel like moving on, letting go or being positive.

Frankly, I don’t think putting happy pants on everyone and sending them back out into the world does them, their spouses, or the drivers next to them any good. It leads to repressed, angry, sad, grief-filled folks running into or running over each other unconsciously.

Do not misunderstand me. In your life, away from this discussion, it is a brilliant idea to have a stiff upper lip in most situations. But in this discussion with me, or anyone else on this blog, and hopefully with the people you trust the most, invest in the emotions that come with grief and give them the attention they deserve. If you are honest with yourself and others about what you feel, they can give you what you deeply need.

This is my not so subtle call to arms to those of you who are grappling with grief. If you are having trouble deciding what you feel, figuring out if you’re grieving, then that is completely valid and we can address that. I want to encourage you to do as Alison Asher says and “soar straight into the storm,” but only do this if you have a lifeboat. I hope that this column, the resources discussed here and the exercises we try can be your lifeboat, along with the friends and family you find here on this blog and in your life. Rally your resources and bring them close to you.

Please write to me with questions and/or your stories. I will attempt to address many of them in this column.

Be well,

Shannon

Contact me at: Shannon [AT] lifewithoutbaby [DOT] com

Resource:

Alison Asher wrote Soaring into the Storm, a lovely book about anyone facing adversity. She interviewed people of all ages and backgrounds who endured tragedy and came out strong. She is an artist and a poet and she survived the loss of a child.

 

With Eyes of Faith…Not Easily Offended February 9, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

 

“Love is patient, love is kind…

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury…”

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Can you tell when someone is bragging about their kids versus just sharing joy and being amazed by life? I thought I could, until I visited with an old friend I had not seen in twenty years.

Our luncheon started innocently enough as we sipped drinks while waiting for a table. We caught up on what happened after leaving school and where we landed in our careers. When we spoke of children, I revealed how keenly I felt the loss of my dream to have a family. My friend seemed to understand and, after sharing her joy over having two children, turned the conversation to her husband and the dog.

Then we reached our table. And then her merlot kicked in.

As my companion launched into a monologue about her son­ – that would last our entire meal – waves of shock and panic washed over me. I was about to learn just how smart Junior is, the great Ivy League school he got into, their wonderful times together when she watched him play sports, the awards he won, the private jokes they shared – well, you can imagine the rest.

What part of my struggle did she not get?  I considered my choices. I could indulge in a range of emotions popping like hot kernels in my consciousness, or I could load them onto tiny boats in a cosmic river, and watch them slip away. I chose that, and relaxed into a Christian form of meditation, called Centering Prayer. With a deep, cleansing breath, I secretly called on the Lord for what I needed and then…just…let…go…to focus on a prayer word.

At some point, the momzilla took a breath and said, “I am so sorry to keep talking about my son like this, but I miss him so terribly since he left for school!”

Ah, there it was.  My long-lost friend was not intentionally trying to offend me, but instead grieving the loss of her best friend. When he left for the east coast, a huge void opened up in her life. Talking about him – remembering the good times – made it seem smaller.  It also explained why we were reconnecting after twenty years. If I had allowed my indignation to rise up, our reunion would not have been the gift God intended.

Is it getting easier for you to tell if a gabby friend is bragging or experiencing something else? What helps you get through tense situations like this?

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She met with her old friend for a second lunch and they had such a good time that they now plan to meet monthly for activities like walking and kayaking.

 

Your Next 15,000 Days January 12, 2012

I was recently introduced to Klara, a blogger in Slovenia, and her new blog The Next 15,000 Days. Her title caught my attention immediately, and I had to know what it meant. Here’s what she writes about her choice of title:

“Just a few days before Christmas we will celebrate 3,000 days since our wedding day. Our first 3,000 days were mainly sad. Of course, there were also lots of great things. The greatest was that I realized I married the love of my life; all the pain brought us even closer together. If we are lucky, another 15,000 days are waiting for us. So, we decided to start living a new, happy life. We lost, already, enough days being sad. We just don’t want to lose another day.”

I love this attitude. It’s the same notion Mr. Fab and I had when we decided to start figuring out how to be a family of two. We drew a line in the sand and said, “This is where we start living our lives again. But it’s not always easy to do.

You can’t just decide to not be sad anymore. Sadness and grief are much more complicated and sneaky than that. They tend to hide in unexpected places and leap out on you when you think you’re safe. Family gatherings, pregnancy announcements, and closets where you kept baby clothes you planned to use are all places to be on the look out for a grief ambush.

But you can decide, as Klara says, to “start living a new happy life.” It takes work, and it might not always go as planned, but deciding is half the battle.

So, how do you plan to live your next 15,000 days?

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Paying It Forward January 3, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I think “FOR LEASE” are two of the saddest words of our time. When I saw the blinds drawn during business hours at our local butcher shop, my stomach flipped. When the sign appeared in the window a couple of weeks later, I fought tears as I stood outside on the sidewalk.

The owner is a young guy who grew up in this neighborhood. He set out to bring new life back to our community, to encourage new businesses to take a stake in the many vacant storefronts, to serve as a role model for independent, small businesses owners. He offered great products and personalized customer service with a dash of hope, and I loved supporting him.

I wish I could have done more. Now I wish I could bump into him because I have something to say, something I’ve been thinking about. My motivational speech would go something like this:

Joe, I know what it’s like to have a big dream, and I know how it feels to see that dream fail. You will figure it out. You will get through this. I have to believe that something better, something you haven’t even considered, is coming your way. I believe this experience will make you stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. I believe your life story will ultimately be one of success, a success of your own definition.

I haven’t run and lost a small business, but I did desperately want to be a mommy, and I lost my dream. With help from women like you who have shared your stories, your struggles, your inspirations, I am finding my way through the grief and into a new beginning. That’s experience I can pass on to Joe; this is one way I can pay it forward. Because the loss of a dream is a human experience, and whether we’re mommies or childfree women or downsized employees or neighborhood butchers, we can all relate to it and be supportive.

P.S. In grieving the loss of our wonderful butcher shop, I’ve thought more about how I can be a better neighbor, a better member of our community. I’ve decided that as one of my New Year’s resolutions, I will dedicate part of my groceries budget to support the local, independent shops. It will take more time and effort to run errands, but ultimately I think we all win. Consider how you might pay it forward in 2012 and share your ideas with us.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She takes issue with the idea that society still largely considers childfree women anomalies.

 

Good advice about dealing with pregnancy announcements? September 30, 2011

In the advice column of the Detroit Free Press, a woman unable to have children asked about how to deal with the endless pregnancies in her workplace. It sounds as if she’s found her own way to deal with it by putting on a happy face in public and keeping her true emotions private. I’m tending to agree that it’s about the only way to manage this situation with any grace.

I’m not so sure about the advice she’s been given though. Maybe getting involved with helping children might be a good way for this woman to have children in her life, but I don’t think it’s going to help her with the grief she is clearly still coming to terms with regarding her own loss. I might have advised this woman to seek some professional help, because she’s clearly not healing well on her own.

And while I think that the advice is coming largely from a place of compassion, I can’t help but read between the lines and wonder if she’s really told, “After 11 years, isn’t it time you got over it?”

What advice would you have given?

 

Childless by marriage and a man’s point-of-view August 12, 2011

I recently stumbled upon the Childless by Marriage blog. Author, Sue Lick, married a man who already had children and didn’t want more. She understands that she made a choice and is largely happy with her decision, but is still coming to terms with being childfree, and the hole that has left.

I know that some of you fall into this category, so I thought I’d share her blog here.

Last week, she posted about childlessness from the man’s perspective and included a link to Him+17, a blog written by a man who married a woman 17 years his senior and was unable to have children. The author of that blog responded to Sue’s post and I found his comments insightful. He says:

“The struggle, I find, is understanding the various shades of my reactions to childlessness. Likely, this is an ongoing, never-ending effort. There’s the honest grief that I’d have loved to bring forth a child with my wife, watch the baby grow, and then enjoy (I would hope) a subsequent friendship with the adult who I helped make. There’s also the part of me that just feels plain left out in a societal, cultural way. At family events, with friends who have children, I’m partly the odd one out.”

Ah, yes, I’m all too familiar with those reactions, but here’s what he went on to say:

“Of course, everyone feels left out in some way: the family that only had daughters or only sons, the man or woman who never married. Perhaps people with kids sometimes look at my wife and I and think, ‘We could have had a life as free as theirs.’”

Although I know that thought offers little comfort, this does go back to a comment loribeth made on this blog a while ago. She said, “Everyone has holes in their lives; mine just happens to be child-shaped.” I think about that comment often.

Him+17 goes on to say:

“I’m missing something; I’m not sure exactly what. I’ve tried to fill that gap by spending time with young people, by being a mentor through teaching and as a volunteer with Big Brothers. It helps, but truly, I’ll never understand on the most fundamental level what it means to love one’s own child. As I age, as I learn to live with the reality, this reality remains a grief, sometimes sharper, sometimes less so. I suspect it will never fade and never become something to which I grow accustomed.”

Sadly, I think he’s right. From my own perspective, I have come-to-terms with the fact that I’ll never have children; I can even write a short list of reasons why my life is better without children, but I don’t think that hole in my gut will ever close up. It’s a part of who I am now, like the scar on my knee that I don’t think about most of the time, but is always there and makes one knee different from the other. My experience has changed me and, no matter how well I move on with my life, I’ll always be a little bit sadder and my sense of humor will always be a little less sharp because of it.

 

Healing Through Creativity Workshops August 6, 2011

This fall I will once again be partnering with my good friend, Shannon Calder to host a weekend of Healing Through Creativity Workshops. This time we’re offering two days of seminars with an option to join one or both days.

 

On Saturday, we will be offering Honoring Grief, Loss, and Transition with Word and Image. This is Shannon’s area of expertise and she’ll be teaching a series of creative exercises to work through issues of loss and grief, as well as gathering tools to use going forward. Shannon is a wonderful teacher who has a perfect combination of gentle empathy and no nonsense. This workshop will be very hands on and suitable if you’re still trying to come to terms with being childfree and are wrestling with issues of loss.

 

Sunday’s workshop will be Finding Your Identity After Infertility, a subject that is very dear to my heart right now. In this workshop we’ll again be using creative techniques and writing exercises to uncover who we really are and discover who we’re going to be now that motherhood is no longer on the cards. I’m very excited about this.

 

So, the workshops will be run here in Los Angeles on the weekend of November 12 and 13. All the information is available on the website.

 

We’re running a wahoo, super-duper half-price early bird special right now. If you sign up before August 31, registration is only $99 for one day or $175 for the full weekend.

 

Please check out the website for all the info and I hope to get the chance to meet some of you here in L.A.