Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Graduation Season June 11, 2012

It’s graduation season and Facebook and the local newspapers are festooned with pictures of graduating high school and college kids. I have a niece graduating from university and a nephew aiming to get the grades to go the university of his choice in the fall. It’s an exciting time and it always makes me wistful.

I’m over my longing for a baby and over my desire to be pregnant. I got over the desire for a screaming toddler first of all, and am largely at peace with the idea of not having the chance to raise children. But my recovery always seems to fall apart when it gets to the teenagers.

You’d think I’d have to be crazy to long for teenagers, and no, I’m not exactly pining for a pouting, door-slamming, know-it-all emo. But in general, I like young adults. I love to get into a conversation (difficult as it might be sometimes) with someone old enough to have opinions, but not yet old enough to be cynical. I love to hear about their ideas and dreams and plans for themselves. And I would have loved to have a kid of my own to be proud of.

I no longer ache for the cherub-like cheeks of a new baby or the warmth of a child in my lap. But I do get a little melancholy knowing I’ll never enjoy the pleasure of knowing I did a good job raising a decent human being to send out into the world.

This feeling will pass and my teen longing will join the ranks of the other stages of childhood I’ll miss and have mourned. But for now, I suppose I’ll just keep imposing myself on my nieces and nephews and living vicariously through my very proud mom friends who are celebrating their children’s rites of passage this summer.

 

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.

 

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.

 

When Childfree Friends Move to Mommieville May 7, 2012

It’s now been well over three years since Mr. Fab and I decided to call the whole thing off and figure out how to get happy with the idea of not having children together. It’s been a rocky road, especially in the early days, when hope would keep rising up to remind me of everything I was walking away from, even when I knew that walking away was the right thing to do. (I wrote a post about hope vs. acceptance last year.)

For those of you still in the early stages of coming-to-terms, know that it does get better, and you can get to a point of making peace with the situation. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that booby traps can still lurk around unexpected corners.

Recently, three of my childfree friends dipped their toes into the mommy pond. One had a baby after an awful infertility journey and the other two, once resigned to their childfree lives, met suitable partners and started discussing the pros and cons of attempting motherhood in their 40’s.

As a friend, I was supportive and talked with them about their futures. I was genuinely happy for my friend who got her baby and I’d be just as happy for my other two friends if they decided to go for it.

But our conversations made me feel as if I was on a raft, floating further and further away from these friendships. These women have been my friends for years, more than a decade in one case. We’ve been through all kinds of challenges together and our friendships have survived. But I know that motherhood would drastically change my friends and I’m afraid I won’t be part of their lives anymore.

And this is where it gets dangerous and I consider calling the calling off off.

I just read a story about a 57-year-old woman who used donor eggs and IVF to have a child, and it reminds me that with enough time, money, and lack of sanity, I could probably be a mother too, and then my friends and I could all be mommies together.

Fortunately these whims of mine don’t last long and reality gives me a swift kick in the behind. I made the decision I made after carefully weighing all the options still open to me. I had good reasons for not pursuing motherhood at all costs and those reasons haven’t changed.

But I would certainly miss my friends if they moved away to Mommieville, and at some point I’m sure they’d miss me too.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Facebook Sickness April 17, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I’m convinced I’ve picked up a new form of morning sickness. The primary symptom of “Facebook Sickness” is feeling nauseated every time a “friend” posts yet another comment or photo updating her (or his wife’s) pregnancy. It’s an epidemic:

“Here’s a picture of me at week 5!” (Looking no different than you looked at week 4.5.)
“Here’s the latest ultrasound image!” (Still looks like a blob of nothing to me.)

“Today my pregnant wife is craving ice cream!” (I crave ice cream every day. Big whoop.)

“I’m kicking my mommy today. Love, Baby Girl Smith” (“I crapped on the hallway carpet today. Love, Scout the dog”)

I can’t comment with what I’m really thinking because that would be rude…and, well, I actually am happy for these people. But I am SO OVER the daily belly photos that I am tempted to post one of my own:

“Here’s a picture of my belly. Still fat.”

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. A bowl of chocolate chip ice cream would go a long way to adjusting her attitude today.

 

My Pain is Bigger Than Yours April 16, 2012

Be honest. You’ve played this game, haven’t you? Someone tells you something awful, and you immediately weigh it against your own loss. It’s ok, you can say it. Tell you what, if it will make you feel better, I’ll go first.

My friend has suffered a series of miscarriages over the past couple of years and is now talking very openly about her infertility. She and I are kindred spirits…except that she already has a daughter. I have been supportive of her courage to speak out about secondary infertility, but that little voice in the back of my head keeps popping up. You know the one, don’t you? It’s the one that says, “Well, at least she got to have one baby. At least she got to experience pregnancy. I didn’t get any of that.” Have you ever caught yourself having those thoughts? And yet, is my friend’s loss any greater or less than mine? And does it really matter?

My thoughts on this crystallized recently when I started thinking about other losses. When someone loses a parent, do we dismiss that loss when they still have a surviving parent? If we lose a good friend, do we feel that loss less because we have other friends? No, we do not. And if we do, shame on us. How can you put a value on someone else’s grief?

And yet we do it all the time. All of us here have dealt with loss. Some of us have experienced childbirth, some of us pregnancy, and some of us have never experienced either. I don’t think that we can weigh one type of loss against another and say that one is worse or another is easier, because “at least she got experience [fill in the blank].”

Loss is loss, and it’s always painful. We’re all in this together, whatever our circumstances.

And now I think I’ll call my friend.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Well-Intentioned People April 3, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“Congratulations!”

I cocked my head in the universal gesture for Huh?

“I see you’re here for your first prenatal visit!”

“Um…no. Pretty sure I’m not.”

“Yes, it says so in the computer.”

“Pretty sure your computer is wrong.”

I’ve joked for years that my life is like a sit-com, and this vignette was a prime example. What started out as a routine annual physical (weight, blood pressure, checking my heart and lungs) had turned into a farce because someone at a call center had checked a wrong box and the receptionist felt compelled to announce it to the waiting room.

I easily could have turned this into a melodrama. I could have dashed into the ladies room, dissolved into a puddle of self-pity, and called my sister to wail about the unfairness of life, the cruelties of the universe. But there was no need to over-react. The receptionist wasn’t trying to hurt me; she was misinformed (not her fault) and she thought I had something to celebrate. Her intentions were kind, she was reaching out to me, and I’m sure she was gearing up to share her experience of her first prenatal visit when she was pregnant with the first of her three grown kids.

Under other circumstances, it could have been a lovely moment. Or it could have been an awful moment. I chose to make it an absurdly funny moment. Once we cleared up the reason for my appointment, I stepped outside and called a close girlfriend who is also childfree. “You are not going to believe this…my life is a freakshow!” I told her what happened, and together we howled with laughter. Then we talked about how far we both have come on our journeys from disappointed mama-wanna-bes to mostly-contented childfree women.

We’ve all heard our share of insensitive comments, and we know well-intentioned but ill-timed comments can be even more hurtful. I’d like to suggest that we humans generally have the best intentions to be kind to one another, and it’s my intention to try to see this good in others as often as possible.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She believes laughter truly is the best medicine.

 

Whiny Wednesday: MIA…Missing in Motherhood March 21, 2012

Over the past two years of writing this blog I’ve crossed paths with lots of women trying to come to terms with being childfree. Some people find the blog and stay for the community; some come and post a comment or two, never to be heard from again.

I’ve also really connected  with a lot of readers. They’ve left insightful or funny comments and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them a little.

Some are still regular readers, however a couple have suddenly left, and I’ve thought, “Oh good for them; they’ve moved on. That’s great.”

For some reason, maybe feeling nostalgic about the early days of the blog, I was looking over some old posts this week and followed up on a couple of bloggers I hadn’t heard from in a while, just to see what’s going on with them.

Turns out, they’re busy having babies.

I’m not really complaining about this, so perhaps this doesn’t belong on Whiny Wednesday. But it’s left me feeling funny. I’m not sad and I’m not envious. I’m not hurt or feeling deserted. I’m happy for them, but not happy enough to send a note of congratulations. I just am. I’m here; they’re there; our paths crossed briefly, and then we went our separate ways. That’s life, I guess.

 

Guest Blog: Non-Accidental Accidental Pregnancy March 8, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

Why is it that every pregnancy announcement these days is quickly followed up with the footnote that this was an “accident”? One of my friends called last night with the big news, and I truly was shocked to hear it. She’d been debating for a long time whether or not she even wanted kids and hadn’t come to any kind of conclusion. After delivering the bombshell, she said, “Obviously, this was a total surprise and completely not on purpose.”

So of course, I countered with a question as to what happened to her birth control – you know, that little pill she’d been taking every day of her life since freshman year of college? That’s when I got the “Welllllllllllll….”, followed by a convoluted tale of a change in insurance, a radical increase in cost, a two-month swing where she and her husband just went without and they thought they’d be okay because a doctor once told her she might have trouble getting pregnant someday.

I’m sorry, but that does not an accident make. What’s an accident, you ask? Someone who takes their birth control religiously, at the same time every day, and one still manages to get past the goalie. Someone whose condom breaks and on their way to get the morning-after pill, they’re kidnapped and held for ransom until it’s too late. Someone whose Nuva Ring fell out and somehow, they didn’t notice it. These are accidents. Going off your birth control for two months while still having sex, is not.

I don’t think my friend is a scheming, conniving liar. I think she actually believes, on the surface, that this truly was an accident. But anytime you’re having sex while not taking every precaution to prevent pregnancy, there’s got to be a part of you that understands and accepts the potential consequences. And I’d have to argue that going through with it means that even if it’s just on a subconscious level, you sort of want a baby.

What I can’t figure out is why people are so eager to convince everyone it was an accident. Why can’t they own up to what they want? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a baby. Is it because society has made us feel that becoming a mother should be secondary to having a career? Or that we should have accomplished this laundry list of great achievements and amassed a small fortune in college funds first?

I don’t know, maybe it’s not important. But for some reason, it’s just driving me crazy lately! Is this happening to anyone else, or is it just my delusional friends?

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 www.MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.

 

With Eyes of Faith…A Brand New Year January 5, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

~ Jeremiah 29:11

I love that passage from the Bible, where God promises prosperity, hope and a future. Now that I understand the context, it’s one of my favorite verses to reflect on at this time of year, especially now that I have faced my own form of cultural exile as a childless woman.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God to people who loved the Lord, but nevertheless had been driven into exile from their homeland. At the same time he delivered a promise of welfare and not woe, Jeremiah also prophesied that the exile would last several more decades! Can you imagine a frail, little old lady, hearing this and shaking her veil?  She had, maybe, a few good years left on earth, so how could these promises be applied to her life? Since scholars say that the prophecy pointed to God’s plan for a messiah, perhaps she placed her hope on an eternal relationship with God, rather than a passing, earthly reality.

Like her, I also face an exile that I will not outlive.  After enduring pregnancy announcements from friends and family in my thirties, I now dread the upcoming “I’m going to be a grandma!” to a chorus of whoops and yells. As the mommy club keeps expanding (gosh, even women in convents use the title of Mother) so does my period of exile.

But unlike that frail lady in Babylon, I believe God’s plan for a messiah has been fulfilled. So when I reflect on the passage from Jeremiah, I think about the past year and see clearly how God provided welfare and not woe, in the here and now of my lifetime. I may not be delivered from exile but, like my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have a Messiah who walks with me through it, blessing me with a double portion of life’s goodness.

How do you approach this time of year?  What are your plans for the future?

Dorothy lives near Chicago.  She and her husband spend January weekends cross-country skiing the snowy, winding paths of forest preserves.