Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dear friends,

I'm on the road this week, plus I have a migraine headache, so I am going to share one of the first posts I wrote here in 2007. Your comments are welcome. 


Where was the Nursery in My Dream House?

"Dream House," the slender file was labeled. I remember it well, a 1968 home economics assignment filed away in a cabinet covered with bumper stickers for PBS, ecology groups, and local newspapers.
It was a great house, done up in bright red, green and yellow. I had an office, a darkroom, a craft room and a gallery, lots of bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bedroom, everything except a nursery. At 16, it never occurred to me to allot space for children. My home was a glorified office complex with living quarters attached.
The rest of the folder includes plans for a build-it-yourself desk and craft ideas for the kitchen and den. No nurseries or bunk beds.
Why didn't I think about a place for children? I couldn't have known that 35 years later I'd enter menopause without giving birth, that the equipment that caused me killer cramps every 28 days would never serve any purpose, that I would be married twice to men who wouldn't or couldn't have kids, that my only mothering experiences would be dog-mothering or step-mothering. I couldn't possible have known all that. I was not one of those teens who decide early that she doesn't even want to have children. And, although I claim a bit of ESP, I don't think that was involved here.
Perhaps I was just innocent. There's no space for a husband in that house either. A late bloomer, I didn't start dating until I was in college. By the time a man showed up at the door to take me on a date, my parents were so relieved they didn't even consider imposing a curfew or giving him the third degree. But I daydreamed like every other teen of boys and men falling in love with me, wanting to marry me. Did I not realize that relationships with men usually led to children, or at least they did back in the '60s? Love, marriage, baby carriage. I didn't know much about sex, but I think I knew that much.
So why at 16 didn't I leave space in my dream house for children? Why did I just seek work space?
I was a kid who "mothered" baby dolls, toddler dolls, Barbie dolls, stuffed animal dolls, enough dolls to cover my entire double bed. I gave them all names, carried them around with me, made them clothes, talked to them all the time, and grieved when they got torn or bent. I called myself their Mommy.
At the same time, I was in full wife and mother training. I learned how to cook and sew and clean. Mom had me washing, drying and ironing clothes by the hamper-full. By the time I was 10, I could copy her famous chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. By 15, I could prepare a full dinner. I could also knit, crochet, embroider and sew. Whatever other career I might pursue, my main life's work would be the same as my mother's: caring for a husband, home and children.
So why didn't I put a nursery in my dream house? 

Had I already decided that since I had had no dates at 16, nobody would ever ask me out, so I might as well plan life as a creative spinster? I don't think so. As a 30-year-old divorcee whose life was all about work, I thought that, but not when I was in high school. I had crushes on several boys and at least one teacher, and I was berserk over Paul McCartney. But a nursery? Babies? I wasn't thinking about that. Do most 16-year-olds think about babies in that window between playing with dolls and real-life pregnancy? Maybe that's why so many teens get pregnant by accident. They don't see it as something that might really happen to them.
I have always wanted a terrific office. Nurseries are pretty and soft and warm and smell of baby powder, but I have never seen myself belonging in one. I wanted to fit in; babies are God's most amazing creation, but maybe I always knew he had another plan for me, a plan that required an office.
They say that the way you envision your life is the way it will turn out. If I had drawn a nursery into my dream house, would I be a mother and grandmother now? I'll never know because it never occurred to me at 16. 
Just as most of my classmates never thought about including an office in their dream houses. What for?
Perhaps this pencil diagram in an old folder in an old file cabinet contains the key to why I never became a mother. I could blame husband number one for not wanting them or husband number two for not wanting any more than the ones he already had. I could attribute my childless state to persistent use of birth control. But the truth, somehow, is that I always wanted an office, not a nursery. And that's what I got. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How Did Your Mother’s Day Without Children Go?



Mother’s Day is over, hallelujah. How did you do?

One reader told me she had a nice get-away day and was able to ignore the mom’s day hysteria. Another attended a family gathering. When her godchild wished her a happy Mother’s Day, her niece corrected her with “She’s not a mother.” Ugh. One of the guests handed a rose to every woman in honor of her motherhood. Awkward.

Mother’s Day is tough, and not just for those of us who are childless. People whose mothers have died or who have difficult relationships with their mothers struggle through the day. People who don’t get along with their children, whose children have died, or whose stepchildren fail to recognize them as mothers all have a hard time with Mother’s Day.

I don’t think anybody has the kind of Mother’s Day we see in the TV commercials. First, the mothers are pictured as gorgeous young women. Whose mom looks like that? Second, the family drops everything to honor her. Third, they buy her gifts that cost hundreds of dollars, like jewelry and iPads. It was never like that in my family.

I did pretty well on the actual holiday this year, although I had a meltdown the night before. A friend had been complaining that her children didn’t honor her properly, so she hated Mother’s Day. She wanted me to comfort her by taking her to brunch. No freaking way. Then she posted a picture on Facebook of the gorgeous roses her husband bought her. Hello? No kids, dead mother AND no husband over here. Yes, I was a weepy mess.

I played piano at the Saturday evening Mass. Our pastor really tried to be inclusive, offering his blessing to “all women who serve the role of mothers.” He didn’t pass out flowers to the mothers or make them stand while those of us without kids sat in shame, but it was still painful.

I stayed too long on Facebook. After the third friend in a row posted pictures of her Mother’s Day flowers, I got offline and stayed off until Monday. I didn’t miss anything except endless Mother’s Day posts.

On Sunday, I stayed home from church and piddled around the house until time to join friends for a music jam. We had a small group. Some were absent because of Mother’s Day, but that gave the rest of us more chances to sing and play. We had guitars, fiddles, a mandolin, harmonicas and three great female voices to harmonize. It was so much fun I forgot to feel bad.

Afterward, I watched a rerun of the movie “The Bucket List.” Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. So good.

That’s how I survived. How about you? What will you do differently next year?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Get Through Mother's Day with Distraction and Action

Here were are again, on the eve of Mother's Day. I noticed TV commercials touting gifts for "Mom" in early April. Now the dreaded day is this Sunday. The people who promote this Hallmark holiday have no idea how difficult it is for those of us who wanted children and don't have them and also for those of us whose mothers and grandmothers are no longer alive. All this Mother's Day hoorah just reminds us of what we don't have and makes us want to go hide in a cave. Right?

Over the years I have mellowed from being viciously angry all day to resigned. I have come to accept that this is not my holiday. Just like Chanukah for Christians or Christmas for Jews. Just like it's not my birthday. So I need to be a big girl and get over it. Sure. Sometime on Sunday, it will get to me. But I'll live, and so will you.

To survive Mother's Day, I recommend distraction and action.

Avoid everything that reminds you that it's Mother's Day and you're not a mother. (Guys, apply the same rules next month for Father's Day). Avoid TV, Facebook and other social media. Don't go to restaurants where they greet you with Happy Mother's Day and a flower. The mall is probably a bad idea, too. You don't want to see mothers surrounded by their loving children.

If you have a mother, grandmother, godmother or other mother-figure still living, make the day about her, not you. As for your sisters, cousins and friends, let their spouses and children honor them. Send  a card if you must, but don't go overboard. If they complain, explain that you love them but Mother's Day hurts too much to get involved.

If your partner has children or grandchildren, expect nothing from them. They have their own mother. If they actually remember to honor you, too, be gracious and grateful, but don't make yourself crazy waiting for a card or gift.

Distract yourself with creature comforts and non-motherly activities. Go hiking. See a movie in an actual theater. Go to a spa. Stay in bed with your sweetie and make love all day. Read at a beach or a swimming pool while sipping pina coladas.Throw yourself an Unmother's Day party at which no one is allowed to mention babies or children.

Remember, it's just one day, and then, thank God, it will be over for a whole year.

***
Last week I posted a long comment from "Sam" about his childless dilemma with his wife who couldn't have children. Several of you responded with great comments. Go to the post to see what people said and maybe add a comment of your own.
***

Happy Wednesday, dear friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

His wife couldn't have kids, but he stayed

Dear readers, 
Today I'm yielding my space to a reader who would really like you all to read, reflect and respond to his dilemma. Most of our comments come from women, but we need to hear the guy's point of view, too. He asked me not to use his name, so let's just call him Sam. 
I'm a 56 year old man, who's been married 34 years last February.  My wife and I are both only children.  My wife is 7 years older than I am, and had been married once before.  We agreed before we were married that we both wanted children, though in hindsight I'm not sure she was as enthusiastic as I was. In any case she never expressed any reservations before we were married.


My father was a bit of a flake, and though he never abandoned my mother and me, he was constantly changing jobs.  I once counted that from the time I started to school until I left for college, we moved 15 times.  I consequently was determined that my own child(ren) would be provided with a stable homelife.  My wife and I waited 5 years after we were married, until we had purchased a house and were both fairly well established in our careers, before we started trying to have children.  I was 27 and she was 34.


The month after we closed on the house, she stopped birth control and made an appointment with an OB-Gyn.  Upon her first examination, he discovered that she had multiple large fibroid tumors.  I understand that there are now treatment options, but 29 years ago the only option we were offered was an immediate hysterectomy.  I was crushed, but I never seriously considered leaving her.  I loved (and love) my wife deeply.  I consider myself a very loyal person, and would never have abandoned my best friend for something that was never her fault.


I wish I could say that we pulled together in this tragedy, but she acted then as if it was a huge relief.  I tried to talk with her about it, but she always pushed it away, perhaps uncomfortable because of my difficulty in talking about it.  I realize that she may be covering her pain in flippancy (a common coping tactic for her), but she has often said how glad she was not to have had children.  I threw myself into my work and tried to cope that way.


I tried to talk to her a few times about adoption, but she always immediately changed the subject.  Recently, one of her friends from church adopted from the Child Protective Services program.  After a few years, it became clear that the child has severe emotional problems, and must undergo constant counseling and medication.  My wife's comment is that she is so glad that we never seriously considered adoption.


I always assumed that my grief would diminish over time, like my grief over my father's death.  But lately I find myself brooding over this constantly.  My friends' children are leaving for college or graduating, and having children of their own. Every time I hear about another "happy event" I feel like I've been stabbed in the heart with an icepick,  I have tears in my eyes as I type this.


I wonder if my loyalty was misplaced, and if it would have been kinder to both of us had we split up and started new lives years ago.  I recognize that I may be going through mid-life depression, and have simply seized on this as a hook to hang it on. I beat myself up every day for wallowing in self-pity, but I don't seem to be able to stop. I also realize how ridiculous it would be to consider leaving my wife and trying to have children with someone else now. I'd probably have to marry someone at least 20 years younger, and I'm no George Clooney, nor am I a millionaire. I'm past the point of caring about becoming the cliché, but I couldn't bear to break her heart like that. 
And that's how it ends, readers. Doesn't it make you want to give Sam a big hug. Your comments are welcome. 
Next week: surviving Mother's Day. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Are you fooling yourself about the baby thing?



In Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book I reviewed here last week, Tim Kreider, one of the few male authors in the book, says that he makes a point of telling the women he dates early on that he does not intend to have children and that he will not change his mind. “In my experience,” he writes, “people have a bottomless capacity to delude themselves that their partners will eventually change.”

I think this statement is so important to our Childless by Marriage discussion. We do delude ourselves. I know I did. With my first husband, I told myself we would have babies eventually. Maybe we would have if our marriage hadn’t died. My ex didn’t want kids, but he often buckled to pressure from his parents on other subjects and his mother couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. So, maybe. But the evidence doesn’t support that. Now 66 years old, he has been married three times, and he never had any children. Surely at least one of those other wives wanted them, too. But no babies. Dogs yes, children no.

My second husband, Fred, told me he didn’t want any more children. He already had three kids, the oldest already in their late teens. He’d had a vasectomy after his youngest son was born. And yet for years, I did exactly what Tim Kreider said. I deluded myself that somehow something would change and at least one of his sperm would hook up with at least one of my eggs and we’d make babies. Hello, there’s only one Virgin Mary. It did not happen. I menopaused, he died, game over. I’m living alone with a dog.

If you read back through the comments for past posts, there are hundreds, mostly from women, that talk about partners who say they don’t want children. What should I do, they ask. Will he change his mind? He says he might be ready in a few years. He said we’d do it right after X, and now he says no. He won’t talk about it. Etc.

You can’t blame people for hoping. Sometimes their partners are not clear about what they want. Maybe they don’t even know. Sometimes things happen and people change their minds. But when a person says flat out that he or she does not want to have babies with you and they’re not going to change their minds, I think we have to believe that they mean it and that being with them means you will not have children. If that is not acceptable, don’t delude yourself into thinking things will change. Either accept it or move on.

It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. What do you think about this? I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Authors speak from the gray area between childless and childfree





I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “We have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These writers do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children and how their lives would have been different if they had.

The writing is superb. Daum has done a masterful job of putting this anthology together. Its authors include Sigrid Nunez, PaulLisicky, Michelle Huneven, Pam Houston, and others just as talented and accomplished. They wrestle with issues such as childhood abuse, mental illness, the AIDs epidemic, abortion rights, infertility, and the different ways childless men and women are treated. I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to buy a copy; it’s too good not to own.

A few tidbits to ponder:

Sigrid Nunez writes about how she comes from a line of cruel preoccupied mothers. She did not want to repeat that. But also she did not want to give up her writing. She talks about famous women writers who did not have children or who did and neglected or resented them. She shares a quote from Alice Munro in a Paris Review interview: “When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other . . . this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”

Paul Lisicky, who is gay, writes about how in the midst of the AIDS crisis, men like him were just trying to stay alive and would not even consider spreading the virus to their potential children.

Pam Houston focuses on the right to choose whether or not to have children and why she chose freedom.

Elliott Holt, a woman, suffers from depression and fears she could not manage being a mother. But she loves being an aunt.

Tim Kreider notes that humans are the only creatures that deny the natural instinct to reproduce. He looks at possible reasons, including global conditions or evolutionary adaptation. In his own case, he says, he’s afraid he would love his children so much he would be perpetually terrified of something happening to them.

The stories are fascinating and raise many interesting questions to ponder. Best of all, they don’t pass judgment on anyone. Many of these writers have gone back and forth on the question of having children, just as many of the readers here at Childless by Marriage have. Their words offer comfort and insight into the troubling questions we are all dealing with.