Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Guest Post: Terry Gross March 26, 2011

Credit: Will Ryan

Guest Post written by Laura Nye

Recently I was excited to learn that my favorite radio show host, Terry Gross, is childfree.  She hosts the NPR interview show “Fresh Air”.  A couple of months ago, she interviewed Stephanie Coontz who wrote a book about Betty Friedan’s book “A Feminine Mystique”.  Toward the end of the interview Ms. Coontz says the Feminine Mystique has been replaced by the “Perfect Mother Mystique”.  Terry comments that many women who came of age during the first women’s movement rejected the idea of being a perfect homemaker and decided not to have children.

This made me wonder if Terry was one of us.

I looked her up on wikipedia and found that she is childfree by choice.   At the beginning of an interview with actor and author B.D. Wong, she says she and many of her friends have decided not to have children.  During an interview with John Waters, she asks if he worries about who will take care of him when he’s old because many people without children worry about this.  He advises to have young friends!


Thanks, Laura, for a great post! ~Lisa


Lucy Hobbs Taylor March 24, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

The idiom “like pulling teeth” is a fun way of saying something is “extremely difficult.” Getting out of a cozy bed when it’s 26 degrees outside is like pulling teeth. Deciding to train for a marathon when you’ve been a couch potato for the first 40 years of your life is like pulling teeth. For Lucy Hobbs Taylor, becoming the first American female dentist when schools wouldn’t admit her because she was a woman was…like pulling teeth.

Born in 1833 in New York, Lucy was determined to move beyond the traditionally limited female roles of motherhood, teaching, and nursing. She was after an advanced degree in medicine, but a college of medicine in Ohio rejected her application because she was a woman. Undaunted, she began studying privately with one of the school’s professors. She discovered a passion for dentistry and continued private studies with the dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery and as an apprentice. Still, the college refused her application. In 1861, she was only 28 when she opened her own practice in Cincinnati, which she soon moved to Iowa.

By 1865, Lucy had proven herself to her colleagues, and the Iowa State Dental Society accepted her as a member. That same year, with four years of professional practice serving as credit, she became part of the senior class of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery. She graduated with her doctorate degree in just a few months, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to write “D.D.S.” after her name.

In 1867, she married James M. Taylor, a railway maintenance worker. With his wife’s encouragement, he also became a dentist, and together they built a successful practice in Kansas. Much of their work concerned dental care for women and children, although the woman affectionately known as “Dr. Lucy” did not have children of her own.

After her husband’s death and her own retirement, Lucy became involved in the woman’s suffrage and other political movements. By the time of her passing in 1910, a thousand women had become dentists in America. According to American Dental Association (ADA) statistics, by the end of 2010, there were 45,038 active licensed female dentists in the U.S.

That’s something to smile about.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.


Whiny Wednesday – In Defense of “Losers” March 23, 2011

With all this posting about great childless women for National Women’s History Month, Whiny Wednesday has somehow seemed inappropriate. But now it’s long overdue.

I don’t own a TV so I have no idea who Kate Walsh is, but thanks to the Internet, I gather she’s something hot in the world of television. And I do know that she’s telling MORE magazine, and a whole lot of other people, that she “feels like a loser” because she doesn’t have children.

I feel as if I ought to be compassionate about this, to assure Ms. Walsh that she’s not a loser, just because she hasn’t added “Mother” to her resume, and to point out all the other areas of her life where she isn’t a loser…but it’s Whiny Wednesday and PMS week, and I’m just not feeling all that generous today.

So, thanks Ms. Walsh, thanks a bunch. I know you didn’t say that women who don’t have children are losers, but you sure did imply it. Way to go to perpetuate the stereotype that we women without kids are unfulfilled, dissatisfied with our lives, and something much less than our maternal counterparts. Might I suggest you browse some of the profiles posted here this month and give a little thought to exactly what it is about your life that has disappointed you?

And I’m sorry, but you won’t be making the Great Childless Women list. (Loser!)

Ok, feeling better now. It’s Whiny Wednesday, sisters. Feel free to vent your spleens at will.


Tea with Edna St. Vincent Millay March 21, 2011

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

“First Fig”
from A Few Figs from Thistles (1920)

This is one of my favorite poems and I’ve adopted it as a kind of mantra for life.

Its author was Edna St. Vincent Millay, someone with whom I think I would have enjoyed having a cup of tea (or something a little stronger.) She was a feminist with a reputation for her many lovers, one of whom described her as “a frivolous young woman, with a brand-new pair of dancing slippers and a mouth like a valentine.” She turned down at least two other marriage proposals before marrying Eugen Jan Boissevain. She was an avid vegetable gardener and built herself a barn (and later a writer’s cabin) from a Sears Roebuck kit – unorthodox behavior for a woman born in 1892.

But more than all this, Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of America’s greatest poets of her time. She won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Frost Medal for her work, and is equally well known for her beautiful sonnets as for her controversial anti-war poetry.

Thomas Hardy is quoted as saying that, “America has two great attractions: skyscrapers and Edna St. Vincent Mallay. If I’d been born 80 years earlier, I think I would have made a point of getting to know her.

[Editor’s note: For those of you just joining this blog and wondering what on earth is going on here, we are celebrating National Women’s History Month by featuring great women who never had children.]


Ride, Sally Ride! March 18, 2011

Filed under: Cheroes,Children,Uncategorized — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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By Kathleen Guthrie

For years, whenever I heard Wilson Pickett sing “Ride Sally, ride” in the classic tune “Mustang Sally,” I thought he was singing “Ride, Sally Ride”—for astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. It still makes sense to me, although I now know the song was first released in 1965, and Sally made her historic flight two decades later.

While my contemporaries and I were playing dress-up in our mothers’ satin pumps and imagining glamorous exploits for Barbie and her chums, Sally was paving the way for a whole new universe of possibilities for girls. With a BA, BS, and a master’s degree in physics, she was a PhD candidate in astrophysics looking for new challenges when she responded to an ad in the newspaper. Over 8,000 people applied, only 35 were accepted, of which six were women. In 1978, Sally joined NASA’s space program.

Her giant leap for womankind occurred on June 18, 1983, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. During the 6 days, 2 hours, 23 minutes, 59 seconds of Mission STS-7, Mission Specialist 2 Sally K. Ride and her four crewmembers deployed two satellites and conducted numerous experiments. They traveled 2.2 million miles and orbited Earth 97 times. Her favorite part was being weightless: “I could do 30 somersaults in a row and slither like a seal from one side of the cabin to the other,” she said. “And of course we couldn’t resist playing a little bit with our food!”

Sally is childfree, but she has spent the intervening years raising future astronauts. She has made it her mission here on Earth to show kids that science is cool. She has written several books on space aimed at kids and, in 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company dedicated to encouraging and supporting boys’ and girls’ interests in science, math, and technology.

Maybe one day she’ll return to space. As it stands now, Sally took her second and final space ride in 1984. Guess what was played as her morning wake-up song?

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.


Erin Go Braugh, Dr. Lynn! March 17, 2011

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In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d forego the green beer and pay homage to an incredible Irish woman.

Kathleen Florence Lynn was born in 1874 in Co. Mayo. She was a political activist, supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, and an accomplished doctor.

Dr. Lynn was one of the first women to graduate in medicine from the Royal University of Ireland and she was the first female resident at the Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin. Sill, these qualifications didn’t protect her from discrimination because “she was not a man.”

Dr. Lynn joined the ranks of the Citizen Army and was Chief Medical Officer during the 1916 Easter Rising. When her Commanding Officer was shot, she, as next highest-ranking officer, was promoted to Captain. She was imprisoned for her role in the uprising.

While working with Dublin’s inner city poor, she realized the need to provide adequate medical and educational care for mothers and infants. At that time 164 out of every 1000 babies born in Dublin died from preventable diseases. In 1919 Dr. Lynn helped establish Saint Ultan’s Hospital ‘for the medical treatment of infants under one year of age.’ She thumbed her nose at the hospitals who had turned her down in the past by insisting that St. Ultan’s be staffed and managed entirely by women. During her time there she pioneered use of the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis more than a decade before it went into general use in Ireland.

Dr. Lynn devoted her “spare” time to children, too. She served as Vice President of Save the German Children, an organization that found homes in Ireland for evacuated children during the Second World War. It’s impossible to say how many children’s lives she helped to save during her career. And of course, she had no children of her own.

Dr. Lynn was definitely her own woman. It is reported that she turned down the use of the hospital’s chauffeur and enormous car, preferring to make her own way through the world by bicycle.

In acknowledgement of the role she played in the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence, Dr. Kathleen Lynn was buried in 1955 with full military honors


Susan B. Anthony – Fighting for Equality March 15, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

Susan B. Anthony made her first public speech for women’s rights at the 1852 national convention in Syracuse, New York, and campaigned tirelessly throughout her life. When asked if women would ever be granted the right to vote, she once responded, “It is inevitable.” Yet it wasn’t until 1906, 14 years after her death, that American women finally achieved their goal with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

She also was the first non-allegorical woman to be featured on a circulating U.S. coin, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was minted in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1999. I always thought this was cool, but didn’t know until recently that it’s ironic.

In 1872, Susan was arrested for voting illegally in the presidential election. Despite passionate arguments that invoked the recent passage of the 14th Amendment, which gave the privileges of citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” (with no gender distinctions), she was convicted without being allowed to testify on her own behalf. The judge ordered the jury to find her guilty and then sentenced her with a fine of $100. Here’s where it gets fun: She responded by announcing, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”

She never did. The embarrassed government never made any concerted effort to collect, and in fact, the trial fueled her notoriety and opened the doors to a bigger platform from which to spread her message of gender equality.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.


Mary Cassatt March 14, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

Mary Cassatt is one of my mother’s favorite Impressionists. She loves the tender portrayals of the mother gently bathing her toddler, gazing fondly as she nurses her beloved infant, or otherwise sharing precious and serene moments in daily life.

I have always wondered why there were no portraits of the tantrum, the lacy collar covered in barf, or the at-her-wits-end parent dealing with an explosive diaper as appalled diners look down from their stools in the snooty café. Maybe these images are missing from Mary’s portfolio because she idealized motherhood, because she fantasized about what it would be like, because she herself was childfree.

Not being privy to her private thoughts and longings, I can’t pose an answer to why she chose her subjects, but I can celebrate her enormous success as an artist.

Born into privilege in America in 1844, Mary traveled extensively as a child, then spent many of her working years in France. There were many obstacles. At times, her father, who objected her choice of career, paid for her basic living expenses, but refused to cover her painting supplies. One custom of the day was that women painters were not allowed to use live models. Nonetheless, she persevered and created an extraordinary career. Her first notable success came when her Two Women Throwing Flowers During Carnival was purchased at the 1872 Salon. Then she seemed to hit her stride, starting in 1879 when she displayed 11 works at the Impressionists exhibit—alongside Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne—and turned a profit. Her paintings have since sold for as much as $2.9 million.

In her later years, Mary advised major art collectors and encouraged them to donate their purchases to American art museums. For her many contributions to the art world, France awarded her with the Légion d’honneur in 1904. She championed women’s rights and, in 1915, included eighteen paintings in an exhibition that supported the women’s suffrage movement. Today her work is shown in prestigious museums around the world.

Maybe in her day she also heard, “You’re not a mother, how would you know?” But she sure knew what would appeal to generations of art lovers and collectors.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.


Beatrix Potter March 12, 2011

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“Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.”

So begins one of the most enduring children’s stories of all time. The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold approximately 45 million copies since it was first published in 1901, making it one of the best-selling books of all times, and making its author, Beatrix Potter, a household name.

Potter wrote the original Peter Rabbit story for the five-year-old son of her governess, and in it she captured the essence of childhood mischief and its consequences, dealt out by a firm but loving mother.

Beatrix Potter had no children of her own, and yet she has delighted millions of children for over a century with her 23 tales.

And my favorite bit of Beatrix Potter trivia? When The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected by six different publishers, Potter took the initiative and published the book herself. Go Bea!


Saluting a Four-Star General March 10, 2011

Photo credit: U.S. Army photo

By Kathleen Guthrie

To follow the trajectory of a Hollywood starlet or celebrity fashionista, just open the pages of a current pop culture magazine or click onto one of the gossip-fueled Web sites. You can read about their many romances, fashion hits and misses, critiques of past performances, and buzz about their latest projects.

Now, if you really want to be impressed by a rising star, visit, the official homepage of the United States Army, and read up on Ann E. Dunwoody. Her bio will dazzle you with its listing of her responsibilities and awards. Highlights include service in Desert Storm and being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Legion of Merit (three times). In 2008, she further distinguished herself, and established her place in our history, when she became our first female four-star general.

I need to repeat that: Our first female four-star general.

In an organization that has been historically male-centric, this is an extraordinary achievement. Yet “… I grew up in a family that didn’t know what glass ceilings were,” she said at the time of her nomination. “This…only reaffirms what I have known to be true about the military throughout my career, that the doors continue to open for men and women in uniform.”

I was going to hail her as a trailblazer until I read this quote, an example of her humility, character, grace, and leadership: “I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer [yup], but it’s important that we remember the generations of women whose dedication, commitment, and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today.”

Join me in saluting General Ann E. Dunwoody, soldier, wife, childfree woman, and door opener.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.