Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You just can't tell

When I was dating my first husband, one of the things that impressed me was how well he interacted with children. I'd watching him playing with other people's kids and think what a great dad he would make. It never occurred to me that we wouldn't have children. I never dreamed that he wouldn't want them. It was the natural progression, right? Before we got married, we signed papers with the Catholic Church saying we would welcome children and raise them Catholic, didn't we? Oh, I was so young.

We had been married a few years when, despite using birth control, I thought I might be pregnant. To my horror, he said that if I was, he was leaving. I was not pregnant. The marriage didn't last long enough to find out if he might have eventually changed his mind. Perhaps after he finished college and we got a home of our own . . . But he has been married two more times, and as far as I know, he has never had any children.

Husband number two was good with kids, too, as long as he didn't have to deal with them at home. But he made it clear before we got married that he didn't want any more children. At least I knew how he felt about it.

If your mate seems to enjoy playing with other people's kids, don't assume that he wants some of his own. Talk about it. Ask him before it's too late.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Did You Find Out?

When Fred and I got together, I was 31 and still hoping to be a mom. He was 46 and had had a vasectomy after his third child was born. For a while after our engagement, we talked about having a child together. If his vasectomy couldn't be reversed, we would try artificial insemination or adoption. We talked about it with my gynecologist. We collected information about adoptions. It never occurred to me that I would go to my grave without children.

Then one evening on a camping trip, Fred dropped the bomb. "I really don't want to have any more children," he said. "I'm sorry."

"Oh," I replied, stunned. That's pretty much all I ever said about it until many years later. Somehow, I had this big case of denial. He would change his mind, or a persistent sperm would find its way to one of my eggs, and I would have a baby.

Looking back, I should have demanded that we talk about this a lot more. I should have made it clear that I wanted children. But I didn't. Why? I was more afraid of losing Fred than of not having children. My first marriage blew up, the three-year relationship I had in-between turned out badly, and I had almost reconciled myself to being alone forever. Then Fred came along. I had never felt love like that, and I didn't dare do anything to mess it up.

Now I suspect that, if I had insisted, he loved me enough that we would have had children. But it's too late now.

So, ladies and gents in childless relationships, how did you discover your mate wouldn't or couldn't become a parent, and how did you react? Is there time to change the situation?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Childless women play important role

Throughout history, a certain percentage of women have remained childless. Although people have often viewed them with suspicion or pity, they play an important role in society, says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love and the new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. Childless women are free to do the things mothers can't. They teach, they nurse, they encourage young artists or become artists themselves. In myriad ways, what Gilbert calls the Auntie Brigade is there to help.

I don't know about you, but this comforts me. We who have not given birth still have an important part to play in the world. Sometimes we're lonely, but we matter. We are able to do things our mothering sisters cannot. On Wednesdays, I can lead the children in singing at my church because I am not fettered with a little one. Think about it. We can all mourn the losses that come with never being a mother, but what about all the things we CAN do because we don't have children.

I have not yet read the book, but gathered these excerpts in a review by Margot Magowan. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Holding the baby

I think I'm beginning to understand why so many women gather around babies and vie to hold them. Lately my dog Annie, the one in the picture only two years older and 50 pounds heavier, has taken to lying on top of me whenever I relax in a chair or on the sofa. Spread over my lap or chest, she is warm and soft. As I pet her, she relaxes to sleep. Sometimes she snores. Sometimes she whimpers and her feet paddle as she dreams. I stay very still, stroking her fur, loving her. Of course a dog is not the same as a human baby, but there's something so elemental and right about that closeness, that young life against my body.

Human babies grow so quickly. It is not long before they're too big and no longer willing to lie in their mothers' arms. Most mothers can have more children, and they can look forward to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that come in the never-ending circle of life. They ache to hold babies again. My mother always seemed so happy when she had a chance to hold a little one, but it didn't happen very often.

For those of us who are not mothers,we can only imagine that feeling. And hold our dogs, if they are willing to be held.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Baby in the Back Row

At the library for our monthly writers' meeting, I hear a voice behind me calling my name. I turn and blink, trying to recognize this young woman with a baby attached to her by what looks like an overgrown scarf. I won't remember her name until later, but I know she was one of my best students. She was writing about motherhood. It comes back to me. The last time I saw her, she was pregnant, and I was editing her proposal for a book about birthing plans. But that was—this is a different baby. She has three, I think. Then I discover this pudgy-faced Gerber baby is number four. The oldest is six. Oh. What do you say? He's beautiful. I love his tiny coveralls and the soft brown fuzz on his head. As our guest speaker talks, every now and then he gurgles a loud amen, and when we write, he seems to be studying the page, thinking hard.

Although wearing the glassy-eyed stare of someone who rarely gets enough sleep, my student seems content and bonded to her baby.

In the front row, another young woman, very young, has the same translucent, puffy look of a new mother. She clutches what looks like a blanket in her lap. Later I'll learn that it's her jacket. She's struggling to write about her recent experience giving her baby up for adoption. Like me, she keeps looking at the baby in the back row.

Afterward, I talk to my student, catching up. Yes, she is still writing when she can. She knows all about me from reading my newsletter. "How's Annie?" she asks. My dog. "Good," I say.

I get busy helping to put away the chairs. At home, as I relax into my big chair in front of the TV, Annie jumps into my lap, all 60 pounds of her. She keeps trying to lick my face. I pull her close and pet her soft fur. "Oh, baby, let's just watch American Idol, okay?"