Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Traditional Families May 22, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting. White, upper-middle-class, staunchly Republican. Parents still married to each other (celebrating 50 years this summer). Dad worked for the same company for 47 years; Mom stayed home to raise three all-American kids. Look at a snapshot of any holiday celebration, and you’ll see us gathered around the dining room table, with flowers from Mom’s garden in the centerpiece, a golden turkey nesting in a great-grandmother’s platter, and everyone dressed with a smile. Picture-perfect.

The flowers, turkey, and smiles are the same in contemporary photos, but we’ve added a few new players. My brother married his college sweetheart and they introduced four beautiful daughters. My sister went off to college and came home a Democrat. Then she went off to graduate school and finally figured out she was a lesbian. A few years later, she joined her partner in a commitment ceremony, and they welcomed two boys with contributions from a sperm donor, a “donor daddy.” I was the lone ranger for many years, the only single person at the table, till I met and married my husband in my mid-40s. He is African-American, and we are childfree.

While growing up and well into adulthood, I never imagined there was any other kind of family for me outside of the traditional model that raised me. I had every expectation that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and create a home and family in her image. I held tightly to that illusion, through many unfulfilling relationships and socially awkward encounters (“Why aren’t you married?” “Don’t you like children?”). I think it’s a miracle that my “right” family was revealed to me and that I am able to embrace it.

I would argue that our society’s definition of a “traditional” family is flawed. Certainly census statistics show that single-parent homes, adults living alone, and mixed-race families are more the norm than marketing directors would have us believe. I look down our street here in San Francisco (and, admittedly, we are a liberal and open community), and I see this reflected back to me through our neighbors’ homes where multiple generations, languages, races, and genders commingle without special notice.

Here in the childfree community, we’re often made to feel that our families are “nontraditional,” which translates to “less than” or “incomplete.” This way of thinking is so judgmental, so hurtful, and so unnecessary. If you’re single, you can create your own family among close and supportive friends. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, you know that it takes only two to make your family. Other people expand their families to include caretaking of nieces and nephews, elderly relatives and friends, or beloved pets.

The “nontraditional” extended family I am part of today is a beautiful thing, defined by love, acceptance, and respect. In my own home, I feel blessed to be one of a family of two, which we augment by sharing our table with friends who have become family. This is my family, this is my new traditional, and I think it’s perfect.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is working on a memoir about her journey to embracing life without baby.

 

Justifying the Decision to Remain Childless June 2, 2010

After posting yesterday’s article about surrogates in India, I came across this Op-Ed piece about a study that looked at the emotional impact on children conceived through sperm and egg donation. Here’s what the researchers found:

“a population that’s at once grateful to the fertility industry and uneasy about the way they were conceived, supportive of assisted fertility but haunted by the feeling of being a bought-and-paid-for child.

Americans conceived through sperm donation also are more likely to feel alienated from their immediate family than either biological or adopted children. They’re twice as likely as adoptees to report envying peers who knew their biological parents, twice as likely to worry that their parents “might have lied to me about important matters” and three times as likely to report feeling “confused about who is a member of my family and who is not.”

And the realities of commercialized reproduction — in which desirable donors can father dozens of children by different mothers, creating far-flung networks of half-siblings who will never know each other — weigh heavily on them. They are more likely than adoptees to say that “when I see someone who resembles me, I often wonder if we are related,” for instance, and much more likely to worry about accidentally falling into a romantic relationship with a relative.”

I found this fascinating and wonder how many parents consider this, and if it’s just one of those issues that will need to be dealt with if and when it arises. I know that when I was faced with the possibility of first sperm and later egg donation, these findings didn’t occur to me. Something didn’t feel right to me, but that’s all that I really knew.

I think that now I am probably looking for justification of my decision to not have a baby by any possible means, but if so, I’m having no trouble finding evidence to support my case.