Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Talk: Don't Be Afraid to Talk About Childlessness



T is for Talk: Couples need to talk about whether or not they want children. Back in my parents’ day, having children was assumed. You got married, you got pregnant, and you made babies. But now there are so many ways to avoid having children. Here in the U.S., birth control is plentiful and easy to obtain, and abortion is legal. People are getting married later in life and putting off parenting until it’s almost too late. Men and women going into second or third marriages often find that at least one of them has already had children and doesn’t want any more.

But when and how do you talk about this stuff? It’s not like you can say on the first date, “Hi, I’m Sue and I want three kids.” Or, “Hi, I’m Peter, my teenagers from my first marriage are bleeding me dry, and I never want to have any more children.” Or, “Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I never really saw myself as a mother. I don’t want to be tied down.” Well, you can, but you might want to start off with a less explosive topic.

As a relationship progresses, when do you bring it up? Before you have sex? Before you move in together? Before the wedding? I don’t have the perfect answer, but I do know it needs to come up sooner rather than later. Day after day, I receive comments here from readers, mostly women, whose partners went along with the baby plans for a while, then dropped the bomb: I don’t want to have kids. Ever. They’re devastated. They don’t know whether to leave and look for someone who wants children or stay and give up their dreams of being parents. It hurts my heart to read these things. And then there are the ones who delayed childbirth for years, only to discover they have fertility problems.

All too often, once that bomb has been dropped, couples stop talking about it. They try to hide their hurt and anger from each other and from the other people in their lives. But it doesn’t go away. Dear friends, you have to talk about it. It will just fester and make you sick if you don’t. Talk with each other. Talk with your friends and family. Talk to your minister, your shrink, or your hairdresser. It is not something to be ashamed of. And don’t assume that your loved ones who have children won’t understand. They love you. They want to help.

It’s okay to talk about the fact that Mother’s Day makes you want to hide in a cave and never come out. It’s okay to say that watching a new mother cuddle her baby makes you want to sob. It’s okay to say, “We don’t have kids and I wish we did.” It’s also okay to say, “We never had children, and I’m happy.”

I feel like I’m giving a sermon here, but I wish I had talked more about it with Fred when I had the chance, instead of just crying in secret.

T is for talk.

We’re heading into the final week of our April A to Z blog challenge. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my Unleashed in Oregon, Childless by Marriage and Writer Aid blogs. Visit Unleashed in Oregon tomorrow to find out what U stands for, and come back here next Wednesday to find out what Z is going to stand for. (Anybody got any ideas?)

Talk to me in the comments.




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N stands for No, I Don't Know Any Children's Songs

Sunday's song circle started out fun. We had a couple of older men, my friend Stacy and me. Some other women wandered in. No one else had brought an instrument, so I got to accompany everyone, whether or not I knew the songs. No problem. But then a woman arrived with a flock of children, seven or eight of them. They have come before, and they're great kids, but suddenly all we were singing was kid songs, and I was the only one who didn't know them.

Yes, I remember "This Old Man" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" from my own long-ago youth, but not stuff like "The Green Grass Grew All Around," "The Little White Duck" or anything written within the last 50 years. Everybody else, including the lovely older men, knew all the songs from their kids and grandkids. Everyone looked at me to lead the songs because I had the guitar, and I had to keep telling them, "I don't know how it goes." Our books had words and chords but not notes or rhythms. I'd strum a chord and say, "You have to sing it because I don't know how." It was like saying I didn't speak English.

The songs were easy enough. I caught on, although I won't remember them. The others had probably sung them so many times they will never forget them. Ninety years old in a nursing home with dementia, they will still know these silly songs.

It's not just kids' music that I don't know. I started to read a parody of the book "Good Night, Moon" the other day and realized I only knew the title, so the rest of it didn't make any sense to me. Likewise, I don't know kids' TV shows or movies. Somebody will mention a cartoon character, and I don't know anything about him.

Meanwhile, the people next to me were singing these songs with gestures and clapping at all the right places and having a great time. I do sing children's songs for the kids at church. But I have sheet music and recordings, so I can learn them in advance, and I love watching the little ones wiggle around trying to do the gestures. But don't expect me to know all the songs every other grownup seems to know.

N is for No, I don't know that song because I never had any kids.

N was going to be for Nana, a name some of my friends use for Grandmother. Well, I'm not that either.

If you don't have children or grandchildren, do you have another channel to kid culture? Please share.

Throughout the month of April, I'm participating in the A to Z blog challenge. Visit Unleashed in Oregon tomorrow to see what O stands for.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H stands for Harley, the "baby" across the street

"I never had any children so I got a puppy," my neighbor Paula explained five months ago as we cooed over the squirming bundle of fur in her arms. A purebred Lab, he was named Harley after his "dad's" motorcycle.

Suddenly Paula and I had a lot to talk about. Neither one of us knows much about human babies, but I was happy to share my experience with dogs. After all, I've been "Mom" to several over the years, including Annie and her brother Chico, whom I raised from 7 weeks old. We talked about food, training, sleep habits, collars, places to walk, toys, and everything else.

Annie was jealous. She let little Harley know she was the boss of 97th Court. But then Harley started growing. And growing. And growing. At six months, the little fur ball is now a moose, bigger than Annie and still growing.

Paula started taking him to work with her every day. Between the house and the car, he often sprints across the street to say hello to Annie. Paula usually follows for a few minutes of dog-mom talk. This picture shows one of the rare moments when Harley is standing still. He bounces constantly, paws flying everywhere, tongue licking everything within reach. Annie, a mature 6-year-old, stares at him with an expression that says, "What's wrong with you?"

For me, I'm glad Paula's dealing with the challenges of puppyhood, the chewing, the jumping, the uncontrolled exuberance. Been there, done that. And you know what? When we're with our dog babies, it never crosses my mind that I don't have children.

Fur babies are not the same as human ones. I know Annie is an animal and can't offer many of the joys of a baby of my own. But she's still my baby dog and always will be.

H stands for Harley in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge, which continues through the month of April. My posts are distributed among my various blogs. See the schedule below. Visit Unleashed in Oregon tomorrow to find out what I stands for. 




Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Baby, the One You May Never Have

 Almost every day I receive a comments from readers whose problems are at the very heart of this blog. They are deep into a relationship where they disagree about having children and don't know what to do. I don't know what to tell them except that I'm sorry this is happening to them and that they have to decide which is more important to them, the man or woman they love or the babies they might never have if they stay together. It's an awful decision, along the lines of would you rather be blind or deaf. Neither choice is good. 

A post from last year titled, "If you Disagree About Children, is Your Relationship Doomed?" has drawn many of these comments. Click the link to read them all. Meanwhile, here are a few.
"My boyfriend and I have been together for 6 years and just recently discussed getting engaged within the year. I am 30 and he is 39 and has been married once before. I have never known that I definitely wanted to have kids but just recently I have been feeling a stronger urge to seriously consider it. My boyfriend just told me that he 100% will not have kids and I need to seriously consider if that is okay with me because he is not "changing his mind". He is the love of my life and I would never consider not being with him but to hear him so vehemently say no to kids made me a little depressed. I am hoping that maybe one day he will consider it or my recently budding baby fever will subside..."

"Hi, i am 42 , my husband is 41. We've been married for just over 5 years. I have 2 grown up children aged 22 & 18 from a previous awful relationship. My husband and I had an incredible marriage. We never argued, always respected each other and loved each other very very deeply. 2 months ago he left me!! He does not want to be 60 and never have become a father. I understand how he feels but he refuses to acknowledge how I feel. I was a teenage mum and have spent my entire adult life looking after kids and he wants me to go right back to the beginning and start again. He can't see what my problem is. He just says I don't love him enough. If I did I would make the sacrifice for him. He says that I have "rejected" him. Now I am completely devastated, I can't eat, sleep and can hardly get up in the morning..."
"I am 3 weeks down the road of separating from my partner (37) of 4 1/2 years. When we first got together, we both wanted to get married and have 4 children. After a year we went overseas traveling and he starting saying he didn't want children. I thought it was because we were traveling and with loads of people in their early 20's. But when we got back, he was still saying that he didn't want children. I thought he just wasn't ready and we kept getting more fur children. Well after I don't know how many conversations, he admits that he doesn't want to be like this dad. It was a look of surprise when it came out of his mouth. He didn't and still doesn't have a wonderful relationship with his dad. I just wish he could see himself through my eyes and what a brilliant father he would make. He is wonderful with his niece and nephews. And has so much to offer a child.. I just want my life back! And the one we planned...."

 "Together 7 years, married for 1. He had two kids from his first marriage, I have zero from my first marriage. I have always always always wanted one of my own. I feel 'broken' or less whole thinking that he now doesn't want to have one with me anymore. He said he is just done..."  
I have a hard time knowing how to comfort these readers. I hope you can help me help them with your comments here or at the original post. Feel free to tell us about your own situation. 

***
You might be wondering what the B is for Babies business is about. I am participating this month in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Every day except Sunday we will publish new blog posts inspired by the letters of the alphabet. Because I have several blogs, I’m going to make this like a progressive dinner or a scavenger hunt. The alphabet blogs will proceed from A to Z but will dance around among my newsletter (4/1 only) and Unleashed in Oregon, Childless by Marriage, and Writer Aid. Here’s the schedule:

A Newsletter
B Childless by Marriage
C Unleashed in Oregon
D Writer Aid
E Unleashed in Oregon
F Unleashed in Oregon
G Unleashed in Oregon
H Childless by Marriage
I Unleashed in Oregon
J Writer Aid
K Unleashed in Oregon
L Unleashed in Oregon
M Unleashed in Oregon
N Childless by Marriage
O Unleashed in Oregon
P Writer Aid
Q Unleashed in Oregon
R Unleashed in Oregon
S Unleashed in Oregon
T Childless by Marriage
U Unleashed in Oregon
W Writer Aid
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Unleashed in Oregon

More than 1300 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. Check out the list at kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.com/p/under-construction.html. You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Find out what C stands for tomorrow at Unleashed in Oregon.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What about those who are childless by un-marriage?


When I heard that MelanieNotkin, author of Savvy Auntie, was about to publish a new book called Otherhood (Seal Press, 2014),  I rushed to buy a copy. I was sure this book about women who never had children because they never married would be fascinating. But the book let me down.

Otherhood started well, but I found it hard to identify with the women Notkin was writing about. Her study of unmarried childless women is pretty much limited to attractive, successful women in their 30s and 40s living in New York City. They go to clubs, date a lot, and meet at swanky places to complain about the guys they date. It’s very Sex and the City. I love that show, and I sympathize with Notkin and her fabulous friends, but she leaves a world of never-married people out of the story. Where are the women who are shy, fat, disabled, poor, uneducated, ugly, awkward, or living in small towns without a lot of eligible men? Where are the people who haven’t had a date in decades, if ever?

Notkin is childless and so are most of her friends. They talk about their options as they approach 40 and beyond. Some are freezing their eggs. Some are considering getting pregnant with donor eggs. They debate over whether they should have a child on their own. All of these options are so expensive most of us can’t afford them, especially without husbands to share the cost. With all the new ways to get pregnant, Notkin says she sometimes she feels guilty for not wanting to have a baby by herself. Is that becoming the new norm, single parenthood? The latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show that in 40 percent of American births, the mothers are not married. So people are definitely having babies without husbands, but as Notkin notes, it's not easy.

And then there are those who almost get married but break up over the having-kids issue. I get comments here all the time about couples who break up or are considering it because one of them is waffling about children. In fact, this morning I received a comment from a woman whose husband has left her because she can't have children with him. I want to turn into my mother and shout “What’s wrong with these people?”

I’m alone now, but I have been married twice. I have known love and companionship and step-children. I really feel for those people who wanted the whole happy ending and never had a chance at it. And I am certain most of them are not living Sex-and-the-City lives drinking cosmopolitans with their girlfriends and complaining about the latest celebrity or Wall Street mogul they dated.

Otherhood is well-written and entertaining, but it only tells a small portion of the story. What do you think about this? I'd love to hear your thoughts on childlessness by way of never finding the right partner.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Can a childless author write believably about motherhood?



Can a childless woman write believable stories about pregnancy, babies and raising children? That’s something I often wonder as I write my novels and stories. In my most recent book, nobody has babies. My main character, PD, and her late husband were never able to conceive. The people she interacts with either don’t have kids or have children who are grown up. That’s pretty much what my life is like, too, although PD’s story is not about me.

I recently read a wonderful book by Oregon author Monica Drake called The Stud Book. It’s not what you think. The title comes from the records zookeepers keep of the animals’ mating and breeding activities. However, in addition to the zoo animals the character Sarah is monitoring, she and her friends are all dealing with babies. Sarah keeps having miscarriages but desperately wants a baby. Georgie just gave birth to her first child, and Nyla has two older kids but is now pregnant again. The author, who is a mom, describes their experiences in such great detail that it’s obvious she has experienced this stuff. The chapters about Georgie and her new baby are so real they must have been based on real life. Drake seems to know exactly how the C-section stitches feel, how the breasts feel when she’s nursing, and how it feels when the baby’s skin touches her own.

I don’t know these things. I can guess. I can imagine. I can ask other people to describe them. I can read and search the Internet, but down deep, I’m faking it. Does that mean I can never create fictional characters who have babies? Then again, can I write about men, people of color, people of different religions, people working jobs I’ve never done, or people younger or older than I am? I hope, with enough imagination and research, I can write about all kinds of fictional characters, but I wonder if that’s true.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

One of those awkward childless moments

It never ends. I attended a high school alumni banquet with my 91-year-old father last week in San Jose. There are so few left in his class that now all classes that graduated from Campbell High School are invited to meet quarterly at the Elk's Lodge. It was a mostly elderly crowd. Presumably the younger grads are at work on a Friday afternoon. Even the "kids" accompanying their parents were older than me, and I just turned 62. One younger guy sat at our table, so cute, so nice. If he were single . . .

Anyway, the man sitting next to my dad, Al, only 89, was so sweet and upbeat, despite being in a wheelchair with his hands so gnarled he could barely eat. My father was born on Al's father's ranch. These guys have known each other all their lives. It was a pleasant afternoon with corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day, a raffle in which nearly everyone at our table won prizes, and great conversations. But--here it comes, my childless friends.

Dad and I were standing, getting ready to leave when Al said to me, "I'll bet he (Dad) spoils your kids rotten." Maybe I should have just said, "Sure does!" but I didn't. I told the truth. "I never had any kids. It just didn't happen for me." This father, grandfather and great-grandfather looked frustrated for a second, as if he didn't know what to say, then said, "He spoils your brother's kids though, doesn't he?" The truthful answer is "No, he's not that kind of grandpa." But I had blown his mind enough. "Yeah," I said and quickly asked about his own grandkids.

Al was just being nice, assuming the daughter in the good-girl outfit was a mom and that her father was a typical grandfather. Everybody has children, don't they? No. We know they don't, but it always seems to be a surprise when someone says, "No, I don't have any kids."

Al didn't ask why and it was the wrong place to go into the details, but I felt almost like I was being rude to not go along with the program. Know what I mean? Has this happened to you? Please share.