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?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Childless friends, here are some answers



Dear friends,
I’m in the middle of a family dilemma and can’t concentrate. My dad fell and broke his hip last week. He’s in a rehab place in California, I’m in Oregon, and communication is ragged. Like this morning, the rehab spokeswoman said on the phone that she can’t tell me anything because my father won’t give her permission--because he doesn’t want to bother me. I’m already bothered. So, while I try to talk to my 92-year-old father, I’m sharing some links to fabulous articles that address issues we’re all thinking about.  

1) This advice column by Lisa Scott addresses the question I get most often here: “I want to have a baby but my boyfriend is avoiding the topic. What should I do?” If you’re a man reading this, just change the genders and read on.

2) This piece, “Wishing for You, Wishing for Me,” by Heather Travis at the Huffington Post may bring you some tears, but read on and you’ll find some reasons to smile.   



Love to you all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beware of unreasonable baby expectations



* She’s 46, he’s 36, and he wants to have children, preferably several. But she’s 46, past the age when most women can get pregnant without heavy medical intervention, and she has almost finished raising the daughter she had with her first husband.

* He’s going through a divorce that nearly destroyed him emotionally and financially. His two half-grown kids are breaking his heart. And now his girlfriend is badgering him to get married and have children. She won’t stop talking about it when he barely has the energy to get through his day as it is.

* Before they got married, he said he didn’t want to have any children. She said kids were never a priority for her either. But then a couple years into their marriage, she saw all her friends having babies and started wanting one, too. When she mentioned her new desire to her husband, he told her he still had no desire to have children. Now she is certain she must become a mother or die of grief. It’s all his fault for denying her this essential part of life. But he told her all along that fatherhood was not on his bucket list.

Dear friends, I read stories like this almost every day in blog comments and in private emails readers send to me. Most of the writers are heartbroken and struggling to figure out what to do. Should they leave their partner in the hope of finding someone eager to make babies or stay and risk ending up alone and regretful in old age? I sympathize. I really do. When I married Fred, I was 33, and he was 48. He had three children from his first marriage and he’d had a vasectomy. We talked about having the vasectomy reversed. We talked about adoption. But he finally told me he just did not want any more kids. I wanted babies. I cried over it, I drank over it, I got mad over it, and I fantasized that somehow I’d get pregnant anyway. Of course I didn’t.

Like the readers described above, I had unreasonable expectations. I married an older man who had already done the baby thing. He had barely finished his divorce before our wedding day. His kids were in all kinds of trouble. His financial security had just been demolished. Finding and falling in love with each other was like a gift from God. To demand children on top of that was asking too much. If I really wanted kids, I should have found a man my own age who was aching to be a dad. I chose Fred.

Readers, I know how much it hurts not having the babies you always wanted. I still cry over it.  It kills me to see families with their children and grandchildren and realize I’m alone. Add active hormones and people having babies all around you, and it can be brutally hard walking around with an empty womb. It’s hard to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it. But sometimes you have to be realistic. If you really love someone, consider their side of the situation. Instead of browbeating them, love them and do your best to understand.

Say the serenity prayer. It helps: God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I welcome your comments.