Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Childless need not be friendless

It's surprising how many of my friends these days do not have children. The reasons vary:

Mary never wanted children. She was delighted to marry a man who already had three kids from his first marriage and didn't want any more. She has a close relationship with her stepchildren and step-grandchildren while remaining free to live her busy life as a music teacher and choir director.

Cathy, who is gay, has a wonderful marriage with her wife Rhonda. She never saw herself as a mother, but anyone who knows her can testify that she serves as a mother to everyone, always taking care of people, whether they need food, medical care, rides, or a shoulder to cry on.

Lori had a hysterectomy when she was young. She and her husband Steve have led an adventurous life pursuing his marine biology career across the U.S. Now they're living in New Zealand, where she's turning into a real "kiwi."

Charlotte is not married, has no kids but leads a busy life managing a quaint local hotel and keeping our writing group going. 

Sue, my favorite yoga teacher, never had her own children. Her husband has grown offspring from his previous marriage, and she enjoys their company. The rest of the time, she's happy as a dogmom and yogini.

My buddy Bill has neither married nor had children. Now 65, he recently survived a health scare that has left him grateful just to be able to breathe, eat, walk and talk. He started out wanting to be a priest. Although he didn't follow through on that career, he still lives the celibate single life and devotes himself to his four nieces and nephews.

Many of my other friends do have kids, but the children and grandchildren live elsewhere. My friends disappear now and then to visit them, but those children do not divide us because we have so many other things in common, things like music, writing, yoga, or church.

When you're in your 20s, 30s and early 40s, it can seem as if everyone you know is having babies, that you are the only odd duck not reproducing. But you're not. If, like so many people who comment at this blog, you are struggling to decide what to do, know that you may be left out of the Mom Club, but there are plenty of other clubs to join. One in five American women (with similar numbers in other countries) are reaching menopause without having babies. The number is edging toward one in four. You are not the only one. You are not weird. As you engage in the things that interest you, you will find other people like you. There is life to be lived and enjoyed even if you don't ever become a mother or father, and as you get older, it will get easier. 




Thursday, October 9, 2014

Try these rituals to vanquish childless grief

Dear friends, over the last two weeks, we have been talking about ways to deal with childless grief. Losing our chance to have children is a real loss, in many ways like a death. We lose the life we had expected to live, the identity of being a mother or father, and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren we will never have. It hurts down to our bones.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the stages of grief. Last week's post focused on developing a Plan B for our lives. Today I want to talk about rituals, things we can do to help get past the grief.

* After my mother died, my husband and I took two bottles of Mr. Bubble soap bubbles to a cliff overlooking Nye Beach. Fred thought I was crazy, but we started blowing bubbles. "Goodbye, Mom," I said. "Go, be free." Some bubbles landed in the bushes and some melted into the sand, but others kept soaring over the beach until they disappeared into the clouds. You know what? We felt better. Afterward, we adjourned to a nearby bar, toasting Mom's memory. Ten years later, on the first anniversary of Fred's death, I blew bubbles again from the deck in our back yard. I also sang some of his favorite songs, remembering the times he had been there, listening and singing along. It helped.

* Writing can be a great way to let go of feelings. Even if you're not usually a writer, try writing a letter to your unborn children, telling them everything you would like to tell them if they were here. You can keep the letters in a special place or burn them as a symbolic way of letting the children go.

* Talk to your children. Go somewhere private and say what's in your heart. For several years, I "met" with my mom, bringing her up to date on everything that was happening in our lives. It felt like she was still here.

* Try hypnosis. I used it several times when the grief I was feeling became overwhelming, and it truly helped. It's not weird, it's not voodoo. I knew what was happening at all times, but I was able to relax and let go. My therapist led me through conversations with my loved ones, living and dead, pouring out all all the feelings and words I could never release on my own.

* Create a symbol for your pain and send it into the world. Put a note in a bottle and toss it into the ocean. Write the names of your would-have-been children on rocks and arrange them in your garden. Hang a streamer off a tree or a pole. Make an ornament to hang on your Christmas tree. 

* Create art expressing your feelings and honoring your unborn children. Whether it's painting, sculpture, needlework, or another form of art, working with your hands to put it into a physical form can help deal with the grief.

* Hold a ceremony, complete with prayers, readings, food and music. Invite friends and family to acknowledge your loss and honor your unborn children. Having your loved ones' support can be a huge help in moving forward.

These websites offer more suggestions for letting go of childless grief:

"Rituals for Letting Go"

"Leaving and Grieving Ceremony/Ritual"

"Grieving Ceremony"

There are lots of ways to symbolically let go of grief. Nothing takes it away completely, but these rituals can help you move on. Can you suggest some more? Have you tried any of these? I welcome your comments.

Friday, October 3, 2014

No Children? What is your Plan B?



Jody Day, a British woman who founded Gateway-Women.com an online community for childless women, recently published a book called Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children. In it, she tells about how she struggled with infertility and other issues that prevented her from having children. They also prevented her from enjoying the life she had because she was so busy thinking about the life she did not have. In her book, Day talks about the “shadow life.” She was simultaneously living the life she had living a shadow life in which she was a mother.

“At no point in that time (a 15-year stretch no less) did I fully and completely embrace the life I was actually living, that of a childless woman. I was always in transition to the next stage when my real life would begin.”

My friends, we only get one life. As my father likes to say, “It is what it is.” And it could be much worse. Ask anyone who is paralyzed or suffering from a fatal illness or who has lost a limb. Ask anyone whose spouse or child has died. Every day that we can get out of bed on our own and choose what we want to do is a good day and should not be wasted.

We risk poisoning our relationships not only with our mates but with everyone else around us if we see only that they have kids and we don’t. Try to see beyond that. Why do we love these people? How would we feel if we lost them?

Examine your lives. Acknowledge what you are probably not going to do. One of the childless women I interviewed for my book said she looked at having children like a lot of other things she had never done and probably never would. She would not be a published author, would not live in Paris, would not be a concert pianist, would not be rich, tall or thin. But she loved the life she had.

If there’s something you really feel you must do, then do it. If it means finding another mate or adopting a child instead of giving birth, just do it. But if you are not willing or able to take these steps, look at what else you can do. You probably have more choices than most because you are not tied down with children. The "childfree" crowd sees that as a good thing.

Make a list of everything that you CAN do, that you get to do, that God gave you the opportunity to do. Now use that list to design your own Plan B.

In future posts, we’ll talk about rituals to let go of childless grief and places to find support from people who understand. Meanwhile if you haven’t read Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children, do yourself a favor and read it. Jody will take you through the steps toward starting to not only survive but enjoy the life you have.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How do you begin to heal from childless grief?

Grief. My 2007 post about childless grief has been the most clicked and commented on over the last seven years. Readers continue to pour out heartbreaking stories about being denied the chance to have children and finding the loss unbearable. They write, "I don't know what to do." "I can't go on." "My heart is breaking." I tell them I'm sorry. I tell them I'm praying for them. I urge them to find someone to talk to, whether it's a friend, family member, or therapist. I tell them to keep talking with their spouse; don't hurt in silence.

The pain is real. The loss is real. You are trying to figure out how to live without the family and the life you thought you would have. It's not just the children. It's not just grandchildren and descendants through the ages. It's also a way of life, an identity as a mother or father, an experience that most people have and you never will.

How do you begin to heal? What do you do with this pain? A reader recently suggested that I write about this. In the next few posts, we will look at ways to heal. Even if you do eventually have children, you won't forget the years when you thought you never would, so healing is needed.

The stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross can be applied here: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial: He'll change his mind. We'll do IVF. I'll get pregnant by accident. She's 43, but it's not too late. We all do this. We think a miracle will happen, and we will have a baby. While we're waiting for that miracle, our lives are passing us by.

Anger: It's his/her/God's fault, and I am so pissed. He cheated me out of my chance to be a mother. She's too selfish to give me the children I always wanted. I never should have married this @#$%. I'm an idiot. And God, you suck.

Bargaining: I'll let him get his degree/sports car/trip to Europe, and then we'll get pregnant. If I get a second job, she'll change her mind. If we move to Cleveland, which I hate, he'll let us have a baby.

Depression: I am so sad I can't go on. I want to have babies. I want them so bad I die every time I hear about somebody else having a baby. My friends and my sisters are all having kids, and I feel so left out. They just don't understand. Nobody understands. I'm never going to have children, and my life is ruined.

Acceptance: They say you have to hit bottom before you can start working your way out of your troubles. One day, you will begin to see that although you don't have children, life has many other good things to offer: a partner who loves you., great food, blue skies and green trees, work you enjoy, a house you love, hobbies. friends, God. You realize lots of other people do not have children and live happy, successful lives, and you can, too. You still wish you had children, but life goes on whether you're a parent or not.

As anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one knows, we don't progress through the stages of grief in a straight line. One day you're feeling acceptance; the next day you're back at depression or anger or denial. I still feel sad sometimes, and sometimes I cry and punch things because I'm furious at how my life worked out. But the acceptance grows with time until it becomes your usual mood.

In coming posts, we will look at alternate life plans,  ceremonies and rituals to let go of grief, and more steps to take toward healing.

Please forgive me if my posts are not quite on time this month. I've been in California taking care of my father, who broke his hip, and there is no Wi-Fi at his house. But I will not desert you. You are all in my thoughts and prayers as we heal together.






Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Using that parenting energy as a caregiver

Dear friends, I have been taking care of my father again. He fell and broke his hip. As I scribble a few words between chores, I can't help thinking this must be what it's like to have a baby, perhaps a one year old.

Everything revolves around his needs. Newly mobile. he's just finding his feet, but you can't leave him to explore alone. You prepare his food, serve his food, clean up after he makes a mess with his food. You wash him, you wash his clothes, you wash his bedding. You take him to his doctor appointments, give him his medicine, comfort him when he hurts.

As with mothers and babies, when you're in caregiver mode, everything else falls away.

While doing all of this, you know that every minute you spend with this baby is a blessing, every new discovery a miracle. You also know that you would love an hour to yourself and a night without listening for the baby to need you. I was a longtime caregiver for my husband, who died of Alzheimer's, but this is even more all engrossing because I'm at my father's house instead of my own, he's much more demanding, and he will not bounce if he falls.

I suspect God was saving the energy I might have used on babies for this.

How about you? Are you using your mother or father energy in other ways?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

True stories of leaving and losing friends

A few months ago, I wrote about a book I'm appearing in called My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In that post I talked about losing friends when they have babies and you don't. You can read that post and the comments here. Several of you offered heartfelt stories about your own experiences.

It's a big subject. I wrote a whole chapter about it in my Childless by Marriage book, and there's always more to say about being left out of the Mom Club.

My Other Ex, an anthology of essays by women about friendship,  is coming out next week. The paperback will be released on Sept. 15. You can pre-order the Kindle version right now.

I'm proud to be a voice in this book for those of us who do not have children. Many of the essays included are about motherhood. I wrote about losing a friend when she had children and no longer had time for me. Another essay tells the other side of the story, about moms who are sad to see their childless friends drifting away. I think it's important to not say, "Well, this book is about mothers, so I don't want to read it." Overall, it's about women and friendship, and that applies to all of us. So read it and let me know what you think.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Picking out names for the children we don’t have



Annie Mae when we adopted her six years ago
As I was walking at the beach with my dog the other day and talking to her, as I often do, I called her by her full name, Annie Mae Lick. Suddenly I realized that could have been the name of my human daughter. Annie Lick. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It would honor my Portuguese grandmother and great-grandmother, both named Anna Souza. Lots of people called my grandmother “Annie.”

To be honest, I named my dog after a TV character. Later, I remembered that that was Grandma’s name.

Anyway, when I pictured my own daughter with that name, I wanted her so bad. She would be grown up now, and I would love her with all my heart. Maybe, like my beautiful niece, she’d look just like my mom, and we could talk and share our lives.

Names. One of the profound things about having a child is naming the baby, giving him or her the identity they’ll carry all their lives. In many religions, the name is part of the baptism or christening ceremony. It matters. Sure, they might shorten or change their names later—my birth certificate says Susan Gail Fagalde—but to you they will always be that person you named. That name will contain their history, their heritage and the love with which it was given.

I named my dolls when I was a kid. I named my first car (Bertha Bug). I named my pets. These days, lots of people give human names to their cats, dogs, monkeys and gerbils. Instead of Spot, Blackie or Rover, they’re Molly, Annie, Harry or George. Why do we do that? Do we see our pets as more human than animal? Do we want to pretend they’re our children? Or do we just have no other use for the names?

As a writer of fiction, I get to make up names for my characters. It’s fun and a little daunting. The name needs to fit the character, be easy to pronounce and distinguish that character from all of the others. What if Scarlett O’Hara had been Judy Smith? Or if Ashley Wilkes had been Jake McFee? Not the same. I also have to be careful about using real people’s names. I once had to change the name of my bad guy because there was a real person with that name who might want to sue me. In my novel Azorean Dreams, my main character’s name is Chelsea Faust. To my amazement, several real Chelsea Fausts have written to me. Luckily, they were flattered.

My writing gives me a place to name people, but I will never get to hug those people, never get to cook for them or help them with their homework. They’ll never come looking for me, calling, “Mom!” They’re just words on a page.

Annie Lick. What a great name.

How about you? Do you have names you wish you could give to your children? Or your dogs?