Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Evelyn R's childless story

Although Evelyn had always loved children and wanted to have her own so badly she hoped she would get pregnant on her honeymoon, somehow it didn't happen.
By the time she got married at age 24, she had a job she loved. Her husband, Leonard, had just gotten out of the military and was struggling to find himself. The time wasn't right and they didn't even discuss having children.
As the years went by, she still liked her job, her nice home and their unfettered lifestyle and wondered if she wanted to give it all up to be a mother. They had been married 10 years when she decided to stop using birth control and see what happened. What happened was: nothing. She never went to a doctor to find out why they didn't conceive, nor did she urge her husband to get himself checked. That way neither one of them could blame the other for their failure to have children, she said.
Once, in the days before people could buy home pregnancy tests, she thought she might be pregnant. At first she felt annoyed, she said. "Then I got kind of happy about it." She was shopping for maternity clothes when she felt a pain in her stomach and discovered that her period had started. "So that was that."
Free from the burden of parenthood, they traveled, socialized, bought new cars regularly, and lived in expensive houses, enjoying the fruits of their earnings. Most of their friends were also childless. The only time she felt out of place, Evelyn said, was when they moved into a housing tract full of young couples just starting their families. They had nothing in common. "We couldn't even hold a conversation."
During her 42-year career with a Bay Area school district, Evelyn was surrounded by children. When she started as a principal's secretary in 1941, the year after she graduated from Heald Business College, she wasn't much older than the students she met. She soon became secretary to the district superintendent and spent the rest of her career in that position. She met co-workers and students who became lifelong friends. Friends half her age took her out and watched over her. She planned to leave her possessions to them when she died.
When we talked, years ago, Evelyn was 77 years old. She said she was too busy to even have a dog or a cat. She went to water aerobics classes four times a week and loved to golf, bowl, shop and visit friends. "I have more real close girlfriends than anyone I know," she said. She also had several young gay friends she considered her best friends. She was going to a friend's house in the wine country for Thanksgiving and was planning a winter trip to Cabo San Lucas. "I'm having a hell of a time," she said.
What did she say when people asked if she had children? "I say, 'No, I don't. I don’t have any children, and I'm an only child, but I've got a lot of friends.' If you say, 'Gee, I wish I had children,' you're dead."

At age 88, Evelyn was honored as the grand marshal of the city of Fremont's annual Fourth of July parade. Interviewed in the local paper, she talked about how she met former students every day, and they're all her "kids." She didn't say a word about the biological children she never had.

Those of us who mope about our childless state and worry about old age might follow Evelyn's example. Grieve if you need to, but don't let the lack of children ruin the rest of your life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Can a childless actress portray a mother?

British Actress Anne Reid was quoted recently in the Telegraph as saying that childless actresses cannot portray mothers because they don't really know what it's like. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/8279466/Actresses-without-children-cant-play-mothers.html)What do you think? Can we not use what we have seen and experienced in our lives to imagine what it's like to be a mom? Should we flip it and say that women who have children cannot play characters who are childless--or childfree?

I wonder about this as a writer, too. Can I really write accurately about what it's like to give birth and to be a parent when I have not experienced these things for myself? But writers write about a lot of things that they haven't personally experienced, right?

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Complete Without Kids author interview

Ellen L. Walker, a psychologist practicing in Bellingham, Washington, is the author of Compete Without Kids, an Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or By Chance, which came out last month from Greenleaf Press. We talked by phone yesterday about life without children and about the book that was born from her experiences.

Walker, 50, has not had children. During her first marriage, her husband kept saying it was not the right time. They were going to school, working, too busy, etc. "He also said the same thing about getting a dog," Walker said. A lot of women get pregnant "by accident" but she didn't feel that was the right thing to do. However, she did get herself a dog, assuring him that she would take care of it.

After the marriage ended, she was resigned to being childless. But then she married Chris, who had grown children from his first marriage. Seeing him interact with his kids, she began to want her own children. Chris didn't want any more kids. Then 45, she consulted her doctor, who said she probably could still have children and referred her to a doctor who specialized in older women's pregnancies.

After many tearful talks with her husband, she began to think about all the ramifications of having a child at her age and realized it was not going to work for her and Chris. She thought about all the things she had been able to do in her life because she didn't have children: her fulltime psychology practice, travel, writing a book. Life was good,she decided, and she would have to accept that it was not going to include children.

"If I had married a different person, I probably would have ended up having kids," she said. "But it was never my top priority." Plus, she adds, "I seem to have been drawn to men who didn't want to have babies with me."

Walker calls herself childfree, not childless. "For me, it's really important to use the term childfree. It describes a lifestyle, not a loss. The term childless has such a negative connotation." It's important to focus on the things we are able to do because we don't have children and accept that no one can do everything in this life, she says.

Walker admires people who have taken serious time to think about their decision. She didn't do that, and it has been difficult finding peace. Now her friends are going into the grandmother stage, and she is beginning to realize "this is going to be with me my whole life."

Lots of couples these days find themselves disagreeing about whether to have children. It's no longer assumed that after marriage comes babies. Walker recommends they see a marriage counselor to help them work it out. "It's a huge life decision. To me, it could be a deal-breaker." A therapist knows how to process all the feelings that come up and help people find closure.

Seeking closure was one of the reasons Walker wrote her book. "I wanted to find some peace of mind." She started journaling, then started getting other people to tell their stories. She found that the childfree people she met were eager to talk about it, and she began doing interviews. "I realized that a lot of people had a lot of unfinished business with it."

She admits she had a hard time disclosing so much of her own personal information in the book, but she hopes it will help others who are trying to figure out whether or not to have children. She wants young women to see role models who aren't mothers and to take their decision as seriously as any other big decision in their lives.

"You're not a loser if you decide not to be a parent," she stresses.

Walker's book is available at Amazon.com and other retail outlets as well as through Greenleaf BookGroup Press. Visit Walker's website and read her blog at www.completewithoutkids.com.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Today I'm interviewing Ellen L. Walker, Ph.D., author of the new book Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or By Chance. I'll publish the results tomorrow, but meanwhile, you might want to check out her website and blog at http://completewithoutkids.com. You'll find some interesting reading there.