Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here's an author who gets it

Readers have complained, as I have, that most novels about childless women end happily but unrealistically with a surprise pregnancy or adoption. They don't show what it's like when the dream of motherhood never comes true. I will admit straight out that the author sent this book to me in the hope I would include it on my site. If it didn't work for me, I wouldn't include it, free book or not. It does, so here it is. Note that the publisher is in Australia, so finding a copy may take some hunting.

Swimming by Enza Gandolfo
Vanark Press, Victoria, Australia, 2009

Kate didn't think she wanted children, but in her 30s, she changed her mind. Her husband Tom, a sculptor, didn't care much for kids but was willing to go along to make her happy. Unfortunately, her body didn't cooperate. After four miscarriages, as she moved into perimenopause, she gave up trying.

This is one of the few novels I have read that deals realistically with the pain of childlessness. Childless readers will recognize the obnoxious questions people ask and the left-out feeling as one's friends devote themselves to their children. Kate also suffers through a divorce and struggles to find her place in the world. If she is not a mother, what is her role?

The novel has two main threads, Kate as she is now and the novel she is supposedly writing about the child she might have had. The latter tells us the story of her life, and I honestly disliked the breaks where she dithered over her writing project, but the stories come together in the end, and it did turn out to be a very engaging novel with characters so true I halfway expect to meet them on the street.

This book grew out of Gandolfo's PhD thesis. A lecturer in Professional Writing at the School of Communication and the Arts at Victoria University, Gandolfo lives in Melbourne.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A lego in the dirt

I found a red Lego toy piece in the yard yesterday. It's a small plastic rectangle, its holes crusted with dirt. Where did it come from? My life with Fred has never included Legos, although I have played with them in doctors' waiting rooms and other people's houses. I have always liked toys with which you could build things. But how did a Lego get here? We haven't even had any young children visit us in the 11 years Fred and I have owned this house. Our house is surrounded by trees, no other house close enough for toys to wander our way.

The only answer is that the dogs dug up a piece of history from the family that lived here before, the Fends. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Big pictures of them hung on the living room walls. Their oldest daughter was living on her own. The younger daughter, high school age, had cerebral palsy. We met her crawling from her bedroom into the hallway the day we took our second look at the house.

The room I use as my office belonged to the boys, who slept in bunk beds and left color crayon marks on the walls. While the older boy worked at his computer, the younger boy showed me his craft projects sitting on the windowsill. Now the walls have been repainted, the windows replaced, and the closet turned into a file room. My desk, shelves and writing paraphernalia fill the room where the boys used to sleep.

The Fends fell on hard times and had to leave the house that was probably the only home their children had known. Now it is a home where all signs of children have been erased. Souvenirs from our travels and our collections of ruby glass and shot glasses decorate the living room and den. It is definitely not a childproof house. But why bother? Children don't come here.

I don't want to throw the Lego piece away. It's as if I have found one piece, and now I need to find the puzzle to which it belongs. I think that's how it always with childless women. Something is missing. We've got one lost Lego and we don't know what to do with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dog motherhood is tough

I'm typing this with a sprained wrist. The other day the dogs and I had a disagreement and I wound up flying through the air straight at the back wall of the house. I hit with my right hand, right knee and the left side of my glasses. This isn't the first time the dogs have caused me to fall. I can remember sitting on the beach a few months ago wondering if I'd ever get up after little (70-pound) Chico got scared by the waves coming at him. I had some major bruises, but I walked away. This time I got a trip to the ER, a splint, an enforced vacation from my music and a major slowdown in my writing. I am not supposed to be typing, but this hurts a lot less than doing dishes.

Anyway, Chico and Annie, 19-month-old lab-bull terrier siblings, have never and would never attack me. They're just big, and they play rough. Sometimes they're stubborn. Many of my friends, my father, my pastor and others are recommending that I get rid of the dogs. Only one friend, who is childless by marriage like me, insists that I can't possibly get rid of my babies. They are my babies, having arrived in my arms at 8 weeks old, when they were 8 and 9 pounds. I have certainly considered looking for a family to love them. They are good with other people, including children, but a little scary with other dogs. Still they are the only company I have in this house these days, and the quiet would be unbearable. Right now they are sleeping in the living room, but any minute, Chico or Annie could come into my office and lay a warm nose in my lap. I would miss that.

These being the only "babies," I'll ever have, I feel an obligation to care for them as long as I can. Maybe I can't keep them forever, but I intend to try. I'm still training them. They have already learned so much. They knock me down, but they also make me laugh and give me someone to hug when I need it. And these days, with no kids and my husband in a nursing home, I need it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is he worth it?

By the time Fred let me know that he didn't want any more children, I was in love with him and we were planning to get married. That left me with a difficult choice: stay with the man I loved or leave him in the hope I would find someone else who wanted children. I chose Fred.

It's a terrible choice to have to make. I interviewed another woman last week who found herself in a similar predicament except that they were already married. At first, neither she nor her husband had much interest in having children. However, she gradually changed her mind. He didn't. In fact, when she confessed her desire for babies, he stood firm, telling her that if she couldn't live without being a mother, she would have to find someone else. She chose to stay with her husband. Not having children causes her great pain, but she's certain she made the right decision.

Another woman told me she had left her home in another country to be with the man she loved. Only after she had said goodbye to home, family and job did he inform her that the daughter he had from a previous marriage was all the children he wanted. When I talked to her,she was still trying to decide what to do, knowing she was running out of time if she wanted to conceive a child.

Every woman I know who is childless by marriage has heard the suggestion that she forget her birth control accidentally on purpose and get pregnant. Once that happened, he would come around. But we all know that's not necessarily true. Besides, how could you trick someone you love on a matter that is so important?

Women are not the only ones in this predicament. Sometimes it's the man who wants children and finds that his wife/partner does not. So how do you decide? What do you think? Is it worth dropping an otherwise wonderful partner to look for someone who is willing to have children?