Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Self-Awareness October 23, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

My friend Kim* is an amazing pediatric dentist. Not only is she highly skilled, but she is passionate about what she feels is her calling. I have always admired her and, quite honestly, have at times been envious as I see her in action, see how her patients l-o-v-e her, see how energized she is by her work. In fact, it doesn’t seem appropriate to call it “work” because she glows when she is in her element and even outside when she talks about it.

So I was stunned during a recent catching-up phone call when she announced she was letting go of her practice.

“What?! Why?”

“It sucks the life out of me, it’s just takes too much energy, I’m exhausted,” she said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, but that wasn’t entirely what I was thinking. See, Kim now also has a one-year-old daughter. Her job hadn’t changed. She’d never found it life-sucking before, quite the contrary. No, it is being a parent that is sapping her energy and making her too tired to continue to enjoy her job. I was saddened to hear that she was choosing to sacrifice her first great love, and also to hear that she was misplacing the blame.

But while I was quick to judge, once I took a step back and looked at the big picture, what I felt was compassion. I realized this was perhaps her way—consciously or unconsciously—of making peace with her sacrifice in her own mind. I do the same thing when people ask me why I don’t want kids and I respond by joking that my dogs take all the parenting urges out of me. Oh, I wanted kids, but I didn’t get to have them, and rather than have a complete meltdown in public, I deliver a half-baked “excuse.” I could easily imagine myself telling one of those strangers, “I just don’t have the energy to be a parent” versus revealing the real and painful reasons for my childfreeness.

When I think about it from my heart, I realize Kim and I aren’t all that different. We’ve both lost something we wanted, we’ve both sacrificed big dreams, and we’ve both lied to ourselves in an effort to salve the wounds. It makes me think that if we could be more honest with ourselves, and if we could then better communicate our real feelings with each other, there would be a smaller divide between the moms and non-moms.

We’re all women, doing the best we can with the paths we’ve been given. I hope that by being aware of this, the next time I am at the receiving end of a half-truth, I will bypass judgment and instead model understanding and compassion.

*Her name and details have been changed to protect her privacy.

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

 

What’s Lost…and Gained August 16, 2012

This post was first published on May 4, 2012.

By Peggy McGillicuddy

 

“To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body”

I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. For most of my adult life, I have worked directly with young children and their parents, but I am not a parent myself.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be, but life happens. Approaching 41, I’ve been officially diagnosed as infertile.

At the beginning of my career I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. Who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad?  Eventually I realized that I had the empathy and skills to do the work regardless. But I quickly came to understand this: the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to experience it. This didn’t bother me, because I always thought, “someday I will know what it’s like…”

There is a strong possibility that “someday” won’t arrive.

Coming to terms with this has been difficult. I watch parents and children together, struggling through situations that are often not ideal.  Addiction, poverty, divorce separation…problems that seem insurmountable.  But one fact stands alone in the chaos.  A connection so deep.

I watch kids introduce me to their parents, so proud.  I see sons and daughters forgive a mom or dad, simply because of their parental role.

I can only imagine what it must be like. I can’t put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don’t want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.

I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child.  I feel it in my gut on a daily basis.  She is the mother of two adult children.  Attempting to make me feel better, she said,

“Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them.  They’re always yours. Even when they’re grown.  If you never have kids, you won’t have to experience that kind of worry in your life.”

 

True. I won’t know what it’s like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won’t experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won’t need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.

I won’t be exposed to the pain that having a child could potentially bring. I will not have a life filled with worry. My heart won’t break each time my son or daughter feels disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it’s like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That’s what my life won’t be like.

And now I struggle to figure out what it will be.  In a strange way, infertility can be a gift.  Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back.  Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships.  It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.

And it’s led me on a quest, which has not yet been fulfilled.  I no longer believe that the only way to experience your heart walking around outside of your body is by bearing children.  There are other paths.  I just need to discover what mine is.

Peggy McGillicuddy is counselor and group facilitator who is actively searching for her heart.  To join her on this quest, check out her blog A Kid First!

 

What Kind of Mother Would I Have Been? July 23, 2012

What kind of mother would I have been?

This thought crosses my mind once in a while, for example, this weekend as I was lugging another dead plant out to the alley to dump its desiccated remains into the compost bin.

What kind of mother would I have been if I can’t even keep a plant alive?

Or on Sunday when I decided to let my indoor cat out into the garden to chase a few butterflies, and then got chatting to my neighbor and forgot about her. (She was fine, as it turns out.)

Would my kids have been the ones standing alone outside the school while I was sitting down to dinner looking around the table, thinking What’s missing here?

I realize that plants and cats don’t take quite the same level of mothering as children, but would I have been an attentive mother?

Maybe I’d have been the opposite – an overindulgent, permissive mother, whose children would create undisciplined riots everywhere they went. I mean, I spoil my cat rotten and she has absolute power over me. Would my children have pushed me around, too?

I know this is just self-pity talking, but I wonder, was I just not meant to be a mother? Do I not have the right stuff?

Too bad we’ll never get to find out.

 

What’s Lost…and Gained May 4, 2012

By Peggy McGillicuddy

 

“To have a child is to forever watch your heart walk around outside of your body”

I have had the above quote taped to my bathroom mirror for years. For most of my adult life, I have worked directly with young children and their parents, but I am not a parent myself.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be, but life happens. Approaching 41, I’ve been officially diagnosed as infertile.

At the beginning of my career I wondered if I was qualified to run parenting groups. Who was I to give tips on being a mom or dad?  Eventually I realized that I had the empathy and skills to do the work regardless. But I quickly came to understand this: the only way to truly comprehend the connection between a child and parent was to experience it. This didn’t bother me, because I always thought, “someday I will know what it’s like…”

There is a strong possibility that “someday” won’t arrive.

Coming to terms with this has been difficult. I watch parents and children together, struggling through situations that are often not ideal.  Addiction, poverty, divorce separation…problems that seem insurmountable.  But one fact stands alone in the chaos.  A connection so deep.

I watch kids introduce me to their parents, so proud.  I see sons and daughters forgive a mom or dad, simply because of their parental role.

I can only imagine what it must be like. I can’t put into words what I see when a parent tells me how special their son or daughter is. How much they don’t want to see them in pain. How it hurts their heart.

I was recently speaking with a friend about my grief over not having a child.  I feel it in my gut on a daily basis.  She is the mother of two adult children.  Attempting to make me feel better, she said,

“Look at it this way. When you have kids, you love them so much. You spend the rest of your life worrying about them.  They’re always yours. Even when they’re grown.  If you never have kids, you won’t have to experience that kind of worry in your life.”

 

True. I won’t know what it’s like to see the joy, the accomplishment. To have my heart leap out of my chest with pride or anticipation. If I never have kids, I won’t experience the kind of connection that can only happen between a parent and child. I won’t need to be concerned that I let them down in some way.

I won’t be exposed to the pain that having a child could potentially bring. I will not have a life filled with worry. My heart won’t break each time my son or daughter feels disappointment, or sheds a tear. I will never have to experience what it’s like to have my heart walk around outside of my body. That’s what my life won’t be like.

And now I struggle to figure out what it will be.  In a strange way, infertility can be a gift.  Over the last few years, it has pushed me to re-evaluate myself, to slow down, and take a step back.  Infertility has forced me to take a look at my relationships.  It’s challenged me to reflect on what is important.

And it’s led me on a quest, which has not yet been fulfilled.  I no longer believe that the only way to experience your heart walking around outside of your body is by bearing children.  There are other paths.  I just need to discover what mine is.

Peggy McGillicuddy is counselor and group facilitator who is actively searching for her heart.  To join her on this quest, check out her blog A Kid First!

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Photo Opportunities November 15, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

It’s like a Pavlovian response. I see someone taking a group shot, and I automatically steer their way and offer to take the photo so everyone can be in it. It’s a good human thing to do, I think.

But a recent event may have begun dismantling the conditioning process. We were heading out of the stadium after a baseball game when I spotted a man lining up a woman and two boys, I’d guess about 7 and 9 years old.

“Can I take the shot so you can all be in it?” I asked.

“Yes! Thank you!” the man said, then handed me his camera and pointed to the shoot button.

“Say ‘chili-cheese fries’!” I said, then I looked through the viewfinder and noticed one of the boys was doing his best impression of a troll face. “Seriously?” I asked, as I lowered the camera. “Is that your best choice?”

The kid looked surprised that I’d called him out, and for a second, I felt badly that I’d ruined his fun. Maybe he’ll appreciate it when he’s 30, I thought to myself. But then his dad looked over and laughed as he saw his son’s expression.

“Nice catch!” he said to me. “You must be a mom.”

“Yup,” I choked out, as I lined up the shot again and captured a keepsake of four normal-looking people—three of the four with unforced smiles.

I handed back the camera and accepted their thanks, and wondered to myself if it would have made any difference if I had responded, “Nope. I’m just a woman who used to be a kid, who loves kids, who gets kids. Don’t have to be a parent to do that.” Did I miss a teaching moment? Could I have given this one family something to think about, a little more awareness that childfree people are human too? Could I have gently impressed upon them that we don’t need to give birth to have parenting skills?

Sometimes it just seems easier to nod my head, swallow the slights, and keep the game moving. But the fact that I’m still thinking about this months later makes me wonder if I made the right choice.

And then to make things even more complicated, I start to wonder why I assumed this was a dad taking his family out to the ballgame? Maybe he, like me, was an uncle who loves his nephews, who also comes naturally to great parenting skills. Funny how our conditioning, our trained responses to situations, takes over. Funny how, in the midst of bashing other people’s preconceptions, I am confronted smack in the face with my own.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Although she came of age during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ glory days, she’s now a committed fan of the San Francisco Giants. 

 

What kind of mother would I have been? August 11, 2011

I read this article recently by Dr. Ellen Walker about how a new puppy made her realize how much time and energy goes into parenting. Dr. Walker is childfree-by-choice and considers her new puppy the “closest thing to being a mom I’ll ever come.”

One of her commenters added, “If you can’t care for a pet, never have kids.”

I think there’s something to that.

I am an utterly besotted cat-mom. Felicity, my calico rescue, has nudged her mischievous way into my heart and I’m not afraid to admit here that I love her. Would the love I feel for her compare to what I would have felt for a child? I couldn’t say, but I’m guessing not. I’ll never know. What I do know though, is that I might not have been the kind of parent I’d hoped to be.

It’s the whole discipline thing. On paper I’m adamant about well-behaved children, good manners, and not being pushed around by a two-foot-tall tyrant. And yet I’m completely at the mercy of a ten-pound furry tyrant. She misbehaves, does things I know she knows she’s not supposed to do, looks at me out of the corner of her eye while she scratches my couch, climbs onto the dining room table to eat my flowers, sleeps on my clothes, shreds my notes, the list goes on and on. And do I discipline her? No, not really.

Maybe it’s because I know she’s just a cat and not a child who is trying to push the boundaries of independence by pushing my buttons, but it does make me wonder what kind of mother I really would have been.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Tired of Media Exclusion September 29, 2010

My TIME magazine just arrived. On the cover is the silhouette of a naked pregnant woman. I put the magazine face down on the table and I refuse to read it. The sight of a pregnant woman does not make me envious or pine for motherhood; I’m just tired of having motherhood pushed at me endlessly.

Last month’s Runner’s World met the same fate with its double features on pregnant runners and the best baby joggers on the market. My longtime subscription to this magazine is in jeopardy as they continue to aim more and more articles at parents, leaving non-parents flipping the pages looking for something relatable.

There are magazines galore for parents and mothers-to-be. Is it too much to ask for my news and hobbies to be safe havens?

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s rubbing you the wrong way today?

 

Think Before You Reproduce September 20, 2010

Filed under: Children,The Childfree Life: Issues and Attitudes — Life Without Baby @ 11:06 am
Tags: , ,

I found this article on More.com recently. It’s one of those that really makes you scratch your head at first read, and I think the author gives some sound advice.

This woman wants children badly and is wondering if she should marry and reproduce with a man whose “jealousy and insecurity issues” as well his drug-use history are giving her cause for concern. Even as I was reading the article I was yelling, “No!!!!” at my computer. But when I read it again today, I see it slightly differently. The woman is 44, watching her window of fertility close, and looking at this man as her last hope for motherhood. I’m still yelling “No!” but I’m no longer adding, “Are you insane?”

I think it’s fairly safe to say that every one reading this blog has given a lot of thought to the reproduction decision. There are those of us who made firm decisions that we didn’t want children, and those of us who wanted children and either weren’t able or weren’t in a situation into which we wanted to bring children. Whatever our situation, we’ve given a lot of consideration to what being a parent entails, and probably a lot more than many people who bring children into the world.

Surprisingly enough I understand why this woman is even considering this option of bringing a child into what is, at best, a rocky relationship. That fertility window is like the old sash windows in my house: it stays open of its own accord for a good long time, but once it starts to close, it comes crashing down like a guillotine. I can understand why she’s grabbing at the nearest sperm-producing straw. But you can see the disaster written all over this scenario, can’t you? The only saving grace is that she too is questioning the wisdom of this move. Hurray for that, at least.