Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking back at 2012 and ahead to 2013

Dear friends,

This is my last post of the year, so I feel compelled to offer some kind of wise analysis of the past year and guidance for the coming year. I wish I knew what to say.

For me, 2012 was a year when it became much easier to live with the loss of my dear husband, Fred. He died in April 2011. Soon I won’t be able to say he died “last year.” Attention from other people has dropped off. Several people who surprised me with Christmas gifts last year did not offer anything this year. I guess in a year you’re supposed to be “over it.” But as with the grief of not having the children we wanted, the grief of losing a spouse never completely goes away. It just gets easier to live with. I find myself able to focus more on the happy times and less on the sad ones, to look at his picture and smile, and to enjoy the freedom of not having to coordinate my life with another human being’s. (The dog is another story.)

In 2012, I finally published Childless by Marriage, my book about not having children because one’s spouse couldn’t or didn’t want to have children. It started out as a journalistic/sociological study and turned into my own story, with lots of research included. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day, and the print version on July 7. In between the two versions, my stepchildren went ballistic over what I said about them. After many painful phone calls and emails, a revision followed. We don’t talk much anymore, and I feel bad about that. But Fred was the link between us, and he’s gone.

I’m writing a novel and a lot of poetry now, which shouldn’t make anybody mad at me. I’m still blogging here, as well as at Unleashed in Oregon and Writer Aid. I’m also doing a lot of music, as much as I possibly can. I turned 60 this year, and I feel a strong need to do what I was sent here to do and not waste time on things that don’t feel right.

My dog Annie is almost five. Her favorite thing is to snuggle with me. I swear she likes it better than eating or going for a walk. I do feel like her mother and often call myself Mom. I don’t care if it sounds silly. I’m constantly watching out for her needs. This year, I’ve treated her four times for ear infections, and everyone at the vet’s office knows me well. My first thought when I have to go away is always: “Who will take care of Annie?” I raised her from a seven-week-old puppy, and she will always be my baby.

My friends are showing grandchild photos all over the place lately. Am I jealous? Yes. But more and more often these days, I’m finding myself feeling happy, thinking my life is good. I have my house, I have Annie, I have good friends, I have family even though they’re far away, I’m healthy, I live by the beach, and I get to do the work I love every day. I know it all could change at any minute, but for now, as Fred used to say all the time, life is good.

So what do I resolve for next year? To use every day as well as I can and thank God for my blessings. On the practical side, I hope to finally attend to several little problems that I’ve been putting off. But I’m not starting any new diets or anything like that.

Enough about me. What about you? What did you accomplish in 2012, and what do you hope to do in 2013? Will this be the year you finally make a decision about children or find peace with the decisions you have already made? Life is short. Look at the people who died last year from tragedy or illness who had no idea they wouldn’t be around for 2013.

My wish for you for the new year is to treasure each day and use it well. Love the people around you, including other people's children. If something needs changing, stop putting it off.

I’d love to hear your comments.

God bless you all. Thank you for being here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Missing the families we didn’t have

The alone-at-Christmas-blues hit with a vengeance yesterday. It was inevitable. I had tried to pack my days so full of music, writing and household activities that I would drop into bed every night without having time to think about not having a husband or children, but the tears caught up with me anyway.

Church did it. Everyone seemed to have visiting family--parents, siblings, children and grandchildren. I saw this nice-looking couple who are probably about my age walking in with their two little granddaughters. I’m going to guess the girls are two and three years old. One was brunette, the other blonde, both just gorgeous, wearing red velvet dresses and white stockings and behaving perfectly. These are the kids we dream about, not the child with the runny nose who might be screaming and tearing up the hymnals.

Watching them, the realization of what I’m missing came down on me like an avalanche. If I hadn’t been up front singing and playing guitar, I might have started crying then or left a little early because suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about how my husband is gone, his family is gone, my mother is gone, and I have no kids or grandkids. My father and my brother are 700 miles away in California. I saw that perfect family and wanted it so badly it was almost unbearable.

I didn’t say anything about it to anyone, just packed up my guitar and my music books and went off to buy a few groceries and come home to do laundry and hang out with the dog. But then I got busy. I made myself a special dinner, and I baked a delicious coffeecake so I’d have something wonderful to eat for breakfast. I rearranged the furniture in my den. I reorganized my home page on my computer. While I did this stuff, I watched a Rod Stewart special on TV, followed by the movie "Chicago" and later "The Sound of Music." Soon I was singing along and realized I was happy again.

I woke up happy this morning. I love my new den and my new home page. I love my Christmas lights and Christmas tree, decorated just for me. I'm anxious to open my presents. In a few hours, I’ll be so immersed in music for the Christmas Eve Masses that I won’t have time to think. I hope.

My life is not the same as most other people’s, but it is good. If I don’t think about what other people are doing, I’m fine. But if I do, I’m a soggy mess.

It’s Christmas Eve. If you, too, are feeling pretty beat up, do whatever you can to treat yourself well. Give yourself a present. Eat something delicious. Take a bubble bath. Watch a movie that has nothing to do with children. Most of all, get busy. It's harder when you're not at home, but when things get to be too much, how about going for a walk or making a run to the store or playing a game? Try with all your might to block out those thoughts about what you don’t have and treasure what you do have. If you need to shed a few tears, go ahead. You’ll feel better afterward.

Feel free to vent here. We understand.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Got the Childless Holiday Blues? Curl Up with a Good Book

Anyone else feeling all grinchy on this Friday before Christmas? As the saying goes, this too will pass.

Meanwhile, I've got a couple new books to tell you about.

Kidfree and Lovin' It by Kaye D. Walters just came in the mail this week. I haven't read too much of it yet, and I can tell from the title that the book leans a little more toward people who don't want children than toward people who do. But it is extremely well done, with an almost encyclopedic collection of information and references, and she does include us "childless by circumstance" throughout. In fact, I was one of the many people she surveyed for this book. I was tickled to find one of my quotes on one of the first pages. She doesn't mention my name, but I'm the "56-year-old writer from Oregon."

What to Expect When No One's Expecting by Jonathan Last won't officially be out until February, but I have already put my order in. This book is not about the whole childfree/childless business but about what's going to happen in our world when we're having far fewer children. Last maintains that it's going to have a big effect on our economy and culture because the population will be shrinking and getting older. It sounds fascinating.

Jody Day of has a new book coming out next year that should make us feel good all over. Meanwhile, don't miss her blog or her website.

My own Childless by Marriage, which debuted last Mother's Day, is the only book I know about that spends more than a few paragraphs on the situation where one does not have children because his/her spouse is unable or unwilling to make babies together.

Or, if you don't have the energy to read and winter storms have knocked out your cable TV like they did mine yesterday, you can curl up on the couch and watch four episodes in a row of "Little House on the Prairie" on DVD. They sure don't make guys like "Pa" anymore.

Have a happy weekend.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Parents are not ‘breeders;’ they’re people with children

Have you ever used the word “breeder” to refer to a human being who has children? Please don’t. Somehow in this crazy time when one-fifth of us are not having children and many of us have chosen the “childfree” life, “breeder” is becoming like a curse word. I’m reading posts on childfree and childless websites where the writers, mostly women, complain about all those breeders posting baby pictures online, daring to bring their children to restaurants, or surrounding them at holiday celebrations.

Breeder is a term that should only be used when we’re talking about people arranging for the mating and procreating of animals or plants, not humans. Wikipedia says: A breeder is a person who practices the vocation of mating carefully selected specimens of the same breed to reproduce specific, consistently replicable qualities and characteristics. This might be as a farmer, agriculturalist, or hobbyist, and can be practiced on a large or small scale, for food, fun, or profit.”

But this is how I’m seeing it used on countless childless/childfree sites and how it's defined in the Urban Dictionary: "1: slang term used by some childfree people for one who has a child and/or has many after that, refuses to discipline the child/ren, thinks the sun rises and sets for their child/ren, look down upon people who do not have children, and are in general very selfish and greedy when it comes to their whims and those of their child/ren, especially if they can use their parenthood status or their children as an excuse to get their way. A female breeder is commonly called a moo, and a male breeder a duh."

The definitions and examples go on and on. Each one offends me more. Not having our own children, by choice or circumstance, does not give us the right to use terms like these or to assume that every parent is a senseless idiot bent on destroying our lives by making babies and actually showing them in our child-deprived presence.

The usage has ramped up lately as people prepare, often with dread, to join their families for the holidays. I know it’s a hard hurdle to get over, but let’s try to stop feeling angry or sorry for ourselves and just enjoy the children around us, even if they’re not ours, for the little miracles they are—even when they’re crying, making messes or generally being less than charming. For Pete’s sake, if our parents hadn’t “bred,” we wouldn’t be here.
If you truly can't stand to be around kids, just avoid them. Unfriend their doting parents and grandparents on Facebook. Spend the holidays camping or on a cruise. But don't call their parents breeders unless they live on a ranch. They’re not “breeders.” They’re people just like us who happen to have children.

One more point. This may sound silly, but think about it. If you wanted a dog and couldn’t have one, and you went someplace where there was a dog, would you hate the dog or the dog owner for being there? No, you’d pet that dog and play with it and love it. Why can’t it be the same with children?

I look forward to your comments.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Childless dreams about babies--and other things

I wake up a little before 6 a.m. and start stewing about what to write in this blog today. It’s too early, so I fall back asleep, and I have this crazy dream.

This woman, a new author, is excited to meet me and has invited me to her house. I think it’s going to be a quick exchange of books, but discover she has gone to great trouble preparing for my visit. I’m looking through her gorgeous book, which, unlike mine, has full-color illustrations, and asking her about how she wrote it and produced it. She’s flitting around preparing lunch, something fancy like crab bisque and shrimp-stuffed croissants, served on expensive china with cloth napkins in a perfectly decorated room filled with sunlight.

Suddenly I realize I never finished getting dressed. I’m wearing a dirty purple bathrobe on top of a white shirt, and I have no pants on, not even any underwear. I don’t know if I even combed my hair. Oh my gosh. I want to take the robe off but then my bare legs will be out there, along with my bare tush. I am so embarrassed, but my hostess, who has written about childlessness but has a teenage daughter standing nearby, seems oblivious to my naked bottom and filthy robe. Maybe she thinks this is what successful authors wear.

I wake up in my nightgown in bed, thinking, no, I can’t write that in my blog. But here it is. I’m hoping it made you laugh.

Dreams are crazy. Over the years, I have had many dreams in which I was pregnant. They were so real that when I woke up and found that my belly was flat, I was devastated.  I also dreamed about having an infant I was nursing or a toddler I was teaching how to sing. Sometimes in my dreams, somebody would take the child away. Always, when I woke up, weeping, I had no child, just a dog.

How about you? Do you dream about babies or children or being pregnant? Do you dream about showing up someplace with no pants on? I’d love to hear about your dreams. Please share in the comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Online co-parenting sites offer an alternative to childless marriages

Can’t find a husband or wife who is willing or able to have children with you? Reluctant to be a single parent? Some folks in that situation are finding people on the Internet to co-parent with them. Much like computer dating, they fill out forms and record videos describing themselves and what they’re looking for, and people who are interested respond. If everything works out, they arrange to make a baby together, either by having sex or by some form of donating and implanting. They will share in the birthing experience and be co-parents, mother and father, but not romantically involved, not married.

According to a recent article in the UK’s Mail Online, the trend is growing like wildfire. In theory, the co-parents can put all of their attention on the child or children without the pressures of marriage and sex. They can choose parenting partners who share their values and want very much to have children. It’s the opposite of the anonymous sperm or egg donor. Both parties are fully involved. One might think that gay couples would be the ones doing this the most, but figures show heterosexuals are making most of the matches.

Comments on the Daily Mail article leaned toward the negative, saying it’s a shame people can’t commit to marriage and children, that children are being turned into a commodity, and that it’s just a sad reflection of our society. But on the plus side, they say that you have two people who definitely want children and will support each other throughout the process, which is better than bringing a child into a marriage where one partner doesn't want him.

What do you think? Is this good? Bad? Wonderful? Terrible? The best thing since gluten-free pancakes or doomed to failure? Let’s talk about it.

By the way, I have been getting tons of spam comments and very few legitimate ones lately. If you have problems commenting, please let me know at Thanks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Childless and happy at the gynecologist’s office

I survived another annual trip to the gynecologist yesterday. Do I hear a collective groan? No, it’s not fun being poked in naughty bits, but I danced out of there one happy woman. My doctor didn’t find any of the terrible things I feared, only a minor malfunction that is easily corrected with medication. Healthy! I should get to keep my unused uterus for another year. All the test results aren’t in, but I feel good.

All this falls into the too much information category, I know, but what I wanted to say was that this doctor does not make me feel weird for not having children or for never having been pregnant. Yes, there are pregnant women and little children in the waiting room. Yes, there are magazines about babies and parenting, but Dr. C. also has The New Yorker and the Atlantic in her rack. She has a few pictures of babies in the examining room but also pictures of butterflies, a marvelous bouquet of flowers, and a quilt, mostly red with at least a hundred little pictures one could stare at all day.

The forms I had to fill out asked only about my health and my medications, nothing about pregnancies I had or didn’t have. All that information is already in the computer. No need to discuss it.

As for my being, ahem, mature, she smiled and noted that we don’t have to waste time talking about my periods anymore. Hallelujah for that. The focus was on health. Before she even started the exam, we discussed my various concerns. Then, as she quietly checked my breasts, my belly and between my legs, we talked a little about her kids, but more about her work and my exercise and the crazy differences between how men and women behave.

I drive over an hour each way to see Dr. C. in Corvallis, Oregon instead of the local doctors here on the coast. Those doctors, mostly male, struck me as rough, distracted and not interested in anyone who wasn’t having babies. It’s worth it to me to have a doctor who truly cares.

Sometimes our doctor visits add to the pain of childlessness. If that’s happening to you, look for another doctor who can make you feel loved and cared for and just as valuable as the pregnant woman in the waiting room.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Childlessness looks different when you’re pushing 90

Seniors have a different take on childlessness than people in their 20s, 30s or 40s. For one thing, menopause has occurred and pregnancy is no longer a possibility. For another, they know how the story turned out.

I gave a talk about my Childless by Marriage book on Sunday at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It was such a pleasant experience I’m tempted to drop in again soon. They meet in the upstairs classroom of the Newport Visual Arts Center. The big windows look out on Nye Beach, with the Yaquina Head lighthouse visible to the north. Even on a stormy day, when everything is gray and white, the view is stunning and surely inspires the many artists who leave their paint splatters on the tables and floors.

At 60, I may have been the youngest person there. The oldest was 90.The meeting was an interesting blend of morning coffee and snacks, music, meditation, readings, sharing of concerns, and me.

As I told my story and read excerpts from my book, the audience reacted with nods, oohs and laughs, and when I opened up the discussion, they had plenty to say. Nearly everyone in the room had children. A few had adopted children. Only half had grandchildren. One said her only child, a daughter, died when she was 16.

These lovely elders, several with accents from far away, one lady nearly blind, said they didn’t have much choice when they were young. You got married and had children. If you were physically unable, you adopted. Now their own children and grandchildren are making different choices. They don’t begrudge them these choices, if that’s what they want to do. It’s good that young people have more choices now. A few recalled the days when you couldn’t be a teacher or a stewardess if you were married or had children.Women worked for a few years as teachers or nurses, then retired to become moms.

A few reminded me of ZPG, the zero population growth movement that became popular in the 1960s. It stemmed from The Population Bomb, a book by Paul Ehrlich, which predicted that the human race would destroy itself and the earth if it didn’t stop having so many children. Some people did decide then not to procreate. With birth control coming on the scene, many had fewer children than the generations before.

I talked about how people ask why we don’t have children and shared some of the answers people give: “It wasn’t God’s plan.” “I didn’t want them.” “Ask my husband.” “It just happened.” The Unitarians couldn’t believe anyone would be rude enough to ask. It’s none of their business, they said, and they would not dignify the question with an answer.

We talked about old age without children. If we don’t have children, who will take care of us? Will we be all alone? As I have heard so many times, they scoffed at the idea that one’s children will be around when one needs help. Where we live on the Oregon coast is a long hard drive from any major city. Most young people move away to go to school and get jobs elsewhere. They can’t come back to hold our hands.

Whether or not we have children is almost irrelevant, they said. We need to reach out to friends to help us. If we have enough money, we can buy our way into senior communities, assisted living institutions and the like, but we can’t count on our kids. We need to count on each other.

Finally, someone commented that there seems to be a stigma attached to not having children. People don’t talk about it much. But for that hour with the Unitarians, with the ocean gently moving in and out in the background, we did talk about it, and it felt good.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Remembering my childless mentor

As I prepare to write my Christmas cards, I realize that this year, for the first time since 1974, I will not be sending a card to Dolores Freitas Spurgeon. She was one of my journalism professors at San Jose State, the one who took a personal interest in my work. She helped me get a scholarship and made the connections for me to do my first major magazine article. A few years later, she got me into California Writers Club, where I rose up the ranks to become president of the Silicon Valley branch. Through the years, she has always been there, sharing her connections and applauding my accomplishments.

Dolores happened to be Portuguese American, like me, and she was one of the first people I interviewed for my book Stories Grandma Never Told. Hers was an inspiring story. She grew up on a farm in the Santa Clara area, and when she reached college age, her parents offered no help or support. "My father thought it was a waste," she said.

The old-timers believed girls would just get married and have children anyway. A whole generation later, I faced a similar attitude.

But Dolores was determined. Armed with a $25 PTA scholarship, enough to pay most of her first year's fees, but not enough for books, she enrolled at San Jose State, taking two majors, commerce and education, so she would be sure to get a good job. Unable to buy textbooks, she either read them at the library or borrowed her friends' books. Later she worked in the campus offices to help pay for her schooling. She graduated in 1936 and went to work as an elementary school teacher, but then fate stepped in in the form of Dwight Bentel. He was starting a journalism program at SJSU and hired her to work with him. She started with secretarial work, then became an assistant instructor and finally a full a professor. With Bentel's encouragement, she earned a master's degree and a general secondary credential at Stanford University.

Meanwhile, Dolores also got married, but contrary to her family's predictions, she did not have children. In those days, birth control was not an option, nor were fertility treatments. If babies didn't come naturally, they didn't come at all. Instead of raising her own children, she nurtured her students. Hundreds of journalists remember Dolores with love and gratitude.

I'm sure there were many like me who enjoyed her typewritten notes--she never made friends with the computer. Every year as I prepared to send her a Christmas card, I hoped she would still be around to receive it. She was very old, and in recent years, she suffered various health problems. But she always managed to scribble an encouraging note on a card for me.

This year will be different. Dolores passed away a few months ago at the age of 96. I feel like I've lost another mother. But I am grateful for this childless woman who gave me so much.

Dolores is proof you don't have to have children to have a successful life.

Are there childless people like Dolores in your life whom you admire?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Delaying Marriage Increases Childlessness

Sometimes having children is a matter of timing. At Thanksgiving, I learned about two male relatives planning to get married this year for the first time. Both are already in their 30s. One is about to graduate from law school. The other hasn't quite found his niche in life. They are not unique. Another family member waited until his 40s to say "I do." He wanted to make sure he had a job, a home and money in the bank before moving forward. A friend in his late 40s did the same, dating the same woman for seven years before he was ready to "settle down." Now they're anxious to have children, but it may be too late.

It's not just the men. Woman also want to get their education and establish their careers before getting tied down with husbands and kids.

An interesting chart on Median Age at First Marriage shows that 50 years ago, males marrying for the first time averaged age 22.8 and females 20.3. Now the numbers are up to 28.2 and 26.1. That doesn't seem so old, but note that these are averages, meaning some are younger and some are older. Also, many couples live together before they get married. Either way, generally a few years will pass after the wedding before they're ready to have children. And if the marriage fails, as more than 40 percent of first marriages do, by the time they remarry, they may well be close to 40.

As my aunt, weary after her day of cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner, noted a few days ago, the next generation seems to be taking its time getting married, having families and taking over the holiday hosting. In short, growing up. And you know what? There wasn't a single baby or child under age 18 at our Thanksgiving celebration.

On the surface, it seems wise to make sure all the pieces are in place before getting married and having kids. Most of us in the boomer generation and before married younger, and those marriages didn't always last. I was 22 when I married my first husband, but I was single again six years later. It might have been better to wait.

But there's a big problem with getting married (or remarried) later in life. If you're reading this blog, I'm sure you already know what it is. We women only have so many years when we can get pregnant and safely deliver babies. By our mid-30s, it's already more difficult and by our 40s, it's a real problem. We read about unusual situations where older women have babies, and we hear about the miracles of various fertility treatments, but for most of us, the door closes around 40.

For couples who can't reach agreement on whether or not to have children, the deadline looms big and scary. What if they make the wrong decision? Should the one who wants children leave the one who doesn't before it's too late? If you wait too long, the choice is made by biology.

What do you think about this? Has delayed marriage played a part in your childless situation? 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Thanksgiving Full of Blessings

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was good. I spent the day with my dad and my brother and his family. Our hosts were my sister-in-law’s nephew and his wife, who somehow have grown up into wonderful young adults. You know, it didn’t bother me at all that no one was calling me Mom or Grandma. I enjoyed just being Aunt Sue.

It was a little weird realizing I was the second oldest person there (Dad is 90). The other grownups, my sister-in-law’s mom, uncle and aunt, are on a European cruise. So our generation were the elders while “our” children did all the work. It was heartening to see how well the family’s kids are turning out. The day was full of life in multiple generations, sweet and vibrant, nostalgic and hopeful.

No one’s life is perfect. We all have something that causes us worry and pain, but when we come together and share our problems instead of carrying them alone, it feels good. My nephew has been reading my book and my blog (hi, sweetie), and he worries about me being sad. But sadness comes with life. We can be sad sometimes and still be okay. As we get older, we begin to understand that. We may not have gotten everything we wanted, but usually what we did get was good.

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Here comes Christmas. But first, how about a turkey sandwich and some more pumpkin pie?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Are you a childless holiday orphan?

Holidays are tough. We often find ourselves surrounded by families full of parents and children and feel left out because we can't share in the talk about kids and babies and pregnancies. We may come up against people who bug us about when we're going to have children or why we don't have them. They may even make wisecracks about us being the ones without children.

The only way around this is avoiding those people and either spending the holidays alone or spending them with people with whom you feel more comfortable. If you have to do the family thing, try as hard as you can to forget what you don't have and enjoy the good parts of the festivities. You do have things to be thankful for, I promise. And hey, there's pumpkin pie.

Another holiday challenge kicks in when your mate has children from a previous relationship. If they live with you, they will most likely be with the other parents for the holidays. If not, they may be with you, or their time may be split between parents so you only get a taste of parenthood. And sometimes, it's harder being with the stepchildren than it is being without them. Hang in there.

In our situation, the older kids were on their own by the time we got married, but they mostly spent their holidays with their mother, and the grandchildren were hustled back and forth between Grandma and their dad's family, so we didn't see much of them. Michael, the youngest, lived with us from age 12 to 20. Before that, we got him on the holidays, but after he moved in, his mom claimed him. Most Christmases, we had limited kid time and felt pretty left out. Once we had all three and the grandchildren at our house. That was the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately, it only happened once.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days, but try not to dwell on what you don't have or what doesn't happen on those days. There are 363 other days in the year to do something special just for yourselves and invite whoever you want.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I'm on the road this week, but I hope to post again on "black" Friday. I am thankful for all of you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Childless Facebook groups: apples, oranges and potatoes

The different ways people look at not having children boggle my mind. I follow posts on three different Facebook pages devoted to childlessness: Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, Childless Stepmothers Support Group, and Childless Not by Choice. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare apples, oranges and potatoes. All of these groups are closed groups, but you can join by invitation. If you want to join, I’ll recommend you for membership.

Each group serves a different need, and I get something different out of each one. Being Fruitful Without Multiplying is the site for the book of the same name. Most of the participants are the editors and contributors who wrote sections of the book. Generally their viewpoint is that they don’t want children. Most say they never wanted them. They call themselves “childfree.” Therefore, the posts often talk about what a nuisance it is putting up with other people’s kids or complain about friends who are obsessed with kids or discuss how they wish the wannabe breeders would quit whining.

The Childless Stepmothers Support Group is for childless women who are married to men who have children from their previous marriages. On this page, most of the posters complain about how awful their stepkids and their husbands’ ex-wives are and how painful it is not to be able to have children. They use a lot of abbreviations, such as SS, DH and BM (stepson, dear husband, biological mother), which gets confusing for me. Sometimes the anger gets to me, but sometimes I can really identify with this group. It’s a safe place to talk about family matters without worrying that your husband or stepchild will read what you post.

There’s another group called The Childless Stepmom.This is also a closed group, and I have not gotten involved, but it's another place you might want to look for someone to talk to. 

The Childless Not by Choice group is for people who do want children and can’t have them for some reason. Sometimes the posts are so sad and frankly, yes, whiny, that it’s hard to read, but we all need someplace to go where we can share our anger, pain and frustration with people who understand.

Each of these groups has become a solid support group for its members. The participants offer comfort and helpful advice, but boy, are they different from each other. There’s such a divide between “childfree” and “childless.” I feel like those of us who are childless by marriage get caught in the middle.  

What do you think? Poke around and see if you can find a place to land that feels good.

By the way, I have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Come “like” me there.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘Bout Babies

On Sunday after Mass, I found myself at a church breakfast where I was seated across from a young mother with a baby and two little girls about 3 and 4 years old. Other family members, presumably the mom’s parents and grandparents, filled the other seats. I had arrived late after finishing up with the choir and took the last available place. It was the loneliest meal I’ve had in a long time, far lonelier than eating alone at home.

The mother was probably in her early 20s, dressed in a tee shirt and tight jeans, her hair pulled back into a ponytail that was coming apart. She never said a word to me nor I to her. I thought about squeezing in at another table, but everywhere I looked I saw the church moms talking to each other. I’m not a mom, just a musician. So I decided to just study this baby for a while.

I thought the infant, age maybe six months, was a boy, but he turned out to be a she. Cute kid. The mom was feeding her bites of scrambled eggs, pushing them in with her fingers. When the baby started spitting out the eggs, the mom shoved a plastic bottle of orange juice into her mouth. Soon the baby squirmed and the bottle fell on the floor. The mom picked it up and put it back into the baby’s mouth. Holding the bottle with one hand, she fed herself a spoonful of eggs with the other.
Meanwhile, one of the little girls was banging on her arm, seeking attention. As she turned to her, taking the OJ out of the baby's mouth, the other girl picked up a fork full of eggs and jabbed it into the baby’s mouth. I watched in alarm. The mother, not watching, informed her older daughter that if she wasn’t going to eat her food, then she’d eat it. She picked up her fork and started eating while her daughter sulked.

By now, the baby was crying. The mother turned back and slapped her other daughter’s hand. “She don’t want any eggs,” she said. The mom took the fork from the baby’s mouth, licked it clean and took a bite of her own cold scrambled eggs as she shoved the juice bottle back into the baby’s mouth. The crying stopped. Soon the bored little girls were running around the church hall as adults carrying cups of hot coffee dodged around them.

Throughout all this, I knew I should say something or at least step in to help, but I didn’t have a clue what to do. I have no experience with babies or small children. I mean, I don’t even know when babies start eating solid food. I feel like such a loser. Of course, none of this woman’s family stepped in to help either, but that's no excuse.

I picture my mother in this situation. She’d be cooing at the baby, standing up to intercede when the sister started shoving a fork in the baby’s face, picking the baby up and rocking her when she started to cry. She’d be sharing memories with the mother and her family of when her kids were small. Me, I just sat and ate my pancakes, eggs and sausage as quickly as possible and got the heck out of there.

Is there any other woman with such a completely babyless life that they don’t know what to do around little ones? If there’s a puppy in the room, I’m right there giving advice, but I hold back when it comes to babies. I’m embarrassed even telling you this story, but maybe I’m not the only one.

On the other hand, for those who are mourning because they don’t have children, would you want to trade places with this young woman who doesn’t have time comb her hair or eat breakfast in peace?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Surviving childlessness: It’s all in how you look at it

“I hate this rainy weather. It’s so dark and wet.” I whined to my counselor the other day. I live on the Oregon coast, where it starts raining in October and keeps going until Fourth of July. We hadn’t seen the sun in two weeks. I’m fully aware that other parts of the country have much worse weather, but I’m from San Jose, where it never rains more than a day or two.
She held up her hand like a stop sign. “Every time you say things like that, it plants a negative thought in your mind.”
She was right. I can’t change the weather, only my reaction to it.           

It’s like the fog. My friend from New England says she loves it. I feel closed in, as if I’ll go crazy if I don’t see the sun within the next few minutes. It’s the same fog, just different ways of looking at it.

Life is like that. I’ve been complaining because the neighbors behind me just built this giant building directly across from my office. At first I saw bare wood sticking out through the trees. Then this week, they installed a bright blue metal roof. It’s so blue. It’s the first thing I see in the morning when I go to turn on my computer. I hated it those first few days, but you know what? I’m starting to get used to it. It’s kind of a nice blue. In time, I might even like it.

Childlessness is a little like that. I think about Karen, one of the women I interviewed for my book. Physically unable to bear children, she grieved until she discovered the term “childfree.” The concept changed her whole perspective. She stopped feeling as if she was missing something and started spreading the word that it was okay not to have children.

In a book called Childlessness Transformed, Brooke Medicine Eagle describes how among the Crow Indians when a person has no children, all the children are her children, not just humans but every life form. When a woman, parent or not, passes through menopause, she moves into the Grandmother Lodge. These “grandmothers” are responsible for all the children of the earth.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better.
If we wanted children and we can’t have them, we are entitled to grieve, but we mustn’t let it rule our lives. By changing our attitude, we can see the good things we do have, like maybe a loving partner, and other ways we can use our mothering energy.

I’m not saying it’s easy. That same friend from New England posted a photo yesterday of her with her new grandson, and I felt the familiar ache. When I took my dog to vet for her kennel cough shot in the afternoon, an employee on maternity leave was in the waiting room showing off her four-week-old baby.

Annie stared at it, puzzled. “That’s a tiny human," I explained. "I wish we had one of those.” We both gazed in awe at the baby’s tiny hands and feet. Then I took a deep breath and said out loud to the mother, “Congratulations. She’s so cute.”

After which, the technician called Annie in and my 77-pound baby dragged me into the examining room, where she knew there were dog treats on the counter. Who cares about babies when there are cookies to be eaten!

It’s all in how you look at it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics and childlessness: there is a connection

Election day is finally here in the U.S. Thank God. We’ll finally be done with all the advertising and phone calls from campaign people who pretend to be doing surveys when they really want you to commit to voting for their person or cause. Here in Oregon, it’s all pointless anyway, because we vote by mail. Many of us mailed in our ballots days or weeks ago.

So what does this have to do with being childless? Directly, nothing. Indirectly, maybe a lot. The presidential candidates, as well as many of the candidates for other federal, state, and local offices, have strong views on things like abortion and contraception. People talk about the “sanctity of life” or “the woman’s right to choose” or “a woman’s right to control her own body.” Abortion became legal in the U.S. with Roe v. Wade in 1973, yet the debate over whether it should be legal has never ended. A new president with strong anti-abortion views could change things by appointing Supreme Court justices who agree with him or by getting legislation passed that curtails our rights.

Birth control has been legal for a long time, although it took a while to trickle through all the states. When I first started taking the pill in 1972, it had only recently become legal in California. Now, although nobody is trying to make it illegal to use birth control, there is a lot of talk about the money part of it, whether insurance would cover it, whether religious institutions can refuse to provide it. There are also politicians who want to shut down Planned Parenthood, which provides not only abortions and contraception but vital health care for women.

The choices we have had since the’60s and ‘70s have made it possible for couples to consciously decide when or if they want to have children. Those choices have also made it possible for women to do other things with their lives besides being mothers. Being able to choose is a huge responsibility, a frightening one. What if we make the wrong choice? What if we want children and our partner doesn’t, or vice versa? Things were so black and white before. You got married and had children, if you could.

Now we have more choices. We can debate all day about whether abortion and birth control are sinful or immoral, wise or something we have a right to, but I think individuals should be able to decide these things for themselves, taking their own life situations, beliefs and religious views into consideration. I pray that doesn’t change with this election or any other.

By now, you have probably voted, but if you haven’t, go do it now. It matters. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Surviving our childless holidays

Halloween is over, thank God, but I'm still getting comments and private emails from childless people for whom it was a painful experience. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time with their children and grandchildren, but the holiday just reminded them they didn't/couldn't/probably never would have kids. Sucks, doesn't it.

I spent Halloween here alone in my house in the woods, baking muffins for the church bazaar. I bought candy--little Hershey bars because that's what my mother used to buy, and they made miss her even more than usual. I put up Halloween lights and waited for kids to come. But nobody came. Not a single knock on the door. The few kids who live nearby probably went elsewhere or stayed home, discouraged by the rain and the darkness out here. It was just me mixing one batch of muffins after another, and the dog watching in the hope that I might drop something delicious on the floor. By 9:00, I decided nobody was coming and turned off the lights. My legs were tired from standing at the kitchen counter, and I felt bad about missing another Halloween.

The very next day, yesterday, the Christmas TV commercials started, full of presents for little kids. I have no kids to buy gifts for, and no little kid will be wrapping a present for me.

Gosh, I sound sorry for myself. I'm just saying the holidays are hard when you don't have children and you wanted them. But we need to get ourselves off our self-pity pots and do something positive. I could have invited people over or found a Halloween party to go to. I could have maybe helped with an event in town. I could donate my candy to a children's shelter or send it to the troops overseas. I don't have to eat those little candy bars one at a time and miss my mom with each fattening bite.

Now I can get myself busy with Christmas activities, with and without children, and make or buy gifts for families who can't afford to buy their own. I can offer my company to lonely seniors. I can spend the holidays at a tropical island reading trashy novels and drinking pina coladas. Maybe find a handsome islander and make love all day long.

With advance planning, our holidays can not only be less painful but even fun. What other ways can we survive our childless holidays? Suggestions?

At least I didn't put a Halloween costume on my dog.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Childless during Halloween and Hurricanes

Dear friends,
I was going to write about Halloween today and how seeing all those little kids in their costumes makes it harder to be childless. Well, it does, and without kids, Halloween isn't much fun, but I’m having a hard time concentrating in the midst of the disasters happening in the eastern United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The extent of the damage is unbelievable, and my prayers go out to those suffering from the floods and wind damage.

We have our own storm happening right now on the Oregon Coast with plenty of rain and wind, but it’s nothing compared to what has happened in places like New Jersey and New York. My yard is soggy and my roof is leaking in the laundry room, but Annie and I are safe, my house is not flooded, the walls and windows are intact, and my car is not floating away. If the power goes out, I’m ready with my flashlights and candles.

Now how does this fit with being childless by marriage? I guess we simply have fewer people to worry about keeping safe or keeping entertained in a protracted power failure. Without children, we can offer our time, energy and money to help others whose lives are more complicated. Yes, we are sad that we don’t have children, but instead of focusing on our sadness, let’s reach out to others as much as we can. 

What do you think? How do you feel about being childless when a disaster strikes? 

Oh, this feels so tacky in view of current events, but I have to tell you that tomorrow is the last day the Kindle e-book version of Childless by Marriage will be available for free. Click here. After Halloween, it goes back to $2.99, which still is pretty darned inexpensive. My novel Azorean Dreams is also a free e-book through Halloween. It’s something to read by candlelight or between trips to the door to give candy to trick-or-treaters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stepparenting: A Bummer and a Blessing

In the Childfree community, there’s a lot of talk about how having children can mess up a marriage. Check out the new book Being FruitfulWithout Multiplying or any “childfree” website for lots of testimony from writers who cite that as one of the reasons they didn’t want to have children. There’s no question that having a baby can lead to sleepless nights, attention going to the child instead of each other, endless expenses, and physical and emotional changes.

But what happens when a child from one of the spouse’s previous marriages is thrown into a childless marriage, especially when the other biological parent is still involved in their lives?

1) You find yourself helping to raise a child who has been formed by someone else. Not only do they have the ex’s genes, but they spent their critical early years learning how to walk, talk and think from somebody whose values may be very different from yours.

2) You find yourself responsible for a child you barely know without any experience at being a parent.

3) When conflicts arise, your spouse’s loyalties are divided between the two of you, and sometimes you lose.

4) A serious amount of your money is being used to raise somebody else’s child.

5) The children know you are not the “real” mom or dad and may decide they don’t need to do what you say or worry about your feelings. You and your partner may, no, probably will, quarrel over discipline.

6) On major occasions, such as graduations, weddings and court dates, both biological parents are likely to be there, making you feel left out and barren.

These are just a few of the things that happen. I’ll bet you can add to the list.

But I can make another list of the good things about marrying someone who comes with children from a previous relationship.

1) You go from being single to feeling like part of a real family.

2) You have someone to complain about and brag about when everybody’s talking about their children.

3) Coming in without the baggage of their early years, sometimes you can become a special friend and confidant, a mother without so many rules.

4) You might get to be a grandmother without ever giving birth.

5) You have an opportunity to love and be part of the life of a young person who shares many of the qualities you love about your partner.

6) They might even friend you and send you baby pictures on Facebook.

If for some reason, their biological parent is not in the picture, having died or gotten sick or abandoned them, you may find yourself taking care of these kids full-time and loving them every bit as if they were your own.

I know this is a big issue for a lot of us. We don't have children mostly because our partners already have these other children. So that’s my list. I’d love to hear what’s on your list.


You’re probably sick of hearing about it, but if you haven’t gotten my Childless by Marriage book yet, the Kindle e-book version will be available for free Oct. 28-31. That’s this Sunday through Halloween. You don’t have to have a Kindle reader to read it. You can download the free Kindle reading program onto your computer, iPad or whatever.

I can’t afford to give away the paperback for free, but if you promise to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere, I can send you a free copy. Just email me at

Also, my novel Azorean Dreams, which is a Portuguese-American romance with a lot of suspense, will also be available as a free Kindle e-book Oct. 28-31.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stepchildren add stress to childless marriages

In last Friday's post, I asked whether having stepchildren made you a mother. For me, it's part yes, part no. Fred's kids have been in my life for almost 30 years, but their biological mother is the one they think of as Mom. And that makes sense. If my father remarried, his new wife might be the most wonderful woman in the world, and we might love her very much, but she could never take the place of our real mother. That's just biology, plus family history.

If your partner has children from a previous marriage, he will always have a connection to them that you can never have. They are his kids, not yours. When a conflict arises between you and the kids, who is he going to side with? The new wife may find herself competing for her husband's time and attention, as well as his money. This can put a real damper on a marriage.

When he (or she) has kids and you don't, that can add to the stress. As several readers have commented here, it gets even worse when his children grow up and have babies of their own. Now he gets to be a grandparent and you don't.

Now some couples have no problem with any of this. They and the kids become one happy family, and they don't even think the word "step." They're all "our kids." They are blessed. I hear from plenty of people for whom having stepchildren makes a painful situation even more difficult.

How is it for you? Does your partner have kids from a previous marriage? Do they live with you or with their other parents? Do you get along? Does having them make your childlessness more difficult? Let's talk about it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Does having stepchildren make you a mother?

I'm sharing an excerpt from my book today. In many cases, people who are childless by marriage find themselves becoming stepparents to their spouses' children from previous marriages. Sometimes it can really ease the pain of not having your own children, but at other times, it just makes the pain of childlessness worse.

A waiter in a restaurant I frequented during my Saratoga News days asked me one day if I was a mother. I gave my standard answer: "I don't have any children of my own, but I have three stepchildren."

He rolled his eyes. "Oh, then you got kids."

Well, yes and no. A stepmother is a lot like a substitute teacher. The kids know she's not the real teacher, so they don't have to listen to her or do what she says. She has all the responsibility without the love and respect. If she sticks around long enough, they might get to like each other, but when the real teacher pokes her head in the door, they'll all abandon their desks, screaming, "Mrs. Smith, you're back!"

It also feels like being the babysitter or the nanny. When the folks come home, the dad gets out his wallet, hands you some money and says, "Thank you very much. We'll take over now." 

Have you experienced this? It's a big issue for a lot of us. Let's talk about it for the next few posts. Do you have stepchildren? Do you feel like a real mother or father to them?

You can read a lot more about stepparenting in my book Childless by Marriage. If you have a Kindle and haven't paid the crazy low price for the e-book yet, the e-book will be available for free Oct. 28-31. Just click here for the page to download it. You can buy the paperback from or directly from me at

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Book: Being Fruitful without Multiplying

Do you call yourself childless or childfree? I just finished reading a book called Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, which is an anthology of stories by women and a few men from all over the world who have chosen to be childfree. Not childless, no.A few struggled with infertility and decided to embrace life without children, but most simply chose not to have children. Many say they knew from early childhood that they would not be mothers or fathers.

The stories are neatly arranged by age, from 20 to 61. Although I can't personally identify with never wanting children, I think we can all identify with the incessant questions--when are you going to have a baby? Why don't you have children?--the comments that we must be selfish or strange, the warning that we'll change our minds, and with feeling left out when our friends all seem to be obsessed with their children or grandchildren.

While I have trouble understanding how so many people can believe that having children will ruin their lives and I wish we had more examples of how they are "being fruitful," readers without children will certainly find that we are far from alone and may find comfort in these stories of lives being lived well without offspring.You can find information about the book at

How about you? Childless or childfree? If you are not voluntarily childless, how do you feel around couples who say they never wanted children?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sounds like motherhood to me

Once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago, but actually only 4 1/2 years, I had a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and two 7-week-old puppies named Chico and Annie. This was an insane combination. I have been reading my old journals lately, and I have to tell you, this sounds exactly like someone trying to take care of twin human babies while caring for an older person with dementia. Why did we adopt these dogs? Our old dog had died, and we missed having a dog around the house. Neighbors advertised a litter of Lab-terrier pups, and they were so cute Fred suggested we get two, the black male for him, the tan female for me. It was insane and wonderful at the same time.

My journal entries are all about the pups peeing, chewing, crying and needing to be held and loved and about how Fred needed pretty much the same thing, minus the chewing of furniture and shoes. I’d put one pup in the crate, and the other would pop out. I’d leave them alone for a minute and find them fighting, one pup trapped behind the water heater, her ear bloody. I had the vet’s phone on speed dial. I’d clean up one mess and turn around to see the other dog squatting on the carpet. I bought absorbent pads by the ton and my hands always smelled like urine. If I needed to leave, I had to find someone to care for the dogs or take them with me in the car. Fred couldn't dog-sit. I’d say, “Put them in the laundry room,” and he would respond, “What’s the laundry room?” It was that bad.

This went on for weeks, then months. I took the dogs to training classes, doing an hour with one, then putting that one back in the car and doing it all again with the other dog. As my husband deteriorated, I had paid caregivers coming in and left them lengthy notes about what needed to be done for both the husband and the dogs. If I couldn’t get a sitter or they didn’t show up, I couldn’t go. I worried every minute until I got home, usually to a disaster of some sort. Although I tried to pretend otherwise, my work suffered. I tried to write when the husband was busy or asleep and the dogs finally conked out at night, but I was always listening for them to get up or cry out. I write about eating a pancake breakfast at church and wanting to cry because finally I could eat in peace and someone actually served my food to me.

It sounds an awful lot like being a mother. So what if I was mothering dogs and a 71-year-old husband? I did everything but give birth and breastfeed. And yes, I had already helped raise my youngest stepson, too. He lived with us from age 11 to 20. I didn’t do motherhood in the normal way, but I feel justified in claiming the title of “mom.”

How about you? Many of us weep over our loss of babies, but are there ways in which you feel you have been a mother, even though you never gave birth? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Being childless around other people’s kids

We may not have our own kids, but the world is full of other people’s children. Does it make you feel better or worse to be around them?

There was a time when I avoided children. If someone brought a baby to the office, I suddenly got very busy at my desk. I just couldn’t share in the admiration and baby talk or in all the sharing of motherhood experiences. “When my xxx was that age . . .” I didn’t feel that I belonged, and it hurt too much to know I’d never have a baby. During church baptisms, I couldn’t join in the benevolent smiles of all the moms and dads remembering when their own little one was christened. I could only think, “That will never happen for me.” Know what I mean?

It was the same with older kids. I didn’t feel as if I knew how to relate. I couldn’t be one of those grownups who talks to the kids or gets involved in their lives.

But I have learned a couple things along the way. It’s not the children that make me uncomfortable. Even if I never gave birth to a child, I WAS a child myself. We all were, and we can relate to kids on that basis. No, it’s the gloating parents and grandparents that make me squirm.

I still don't exactly surround myself with other people’s children, but I do talk to them now. I sing with the kids in our religious education program and I have discovered that kids are pretty great. It’s amazing to watch them grow and learn and turn into people. And sometimes, wonderful times, I can channel my inner child and laugh and play and sing with them and not worry about the fact that all I have at home is a dog.

In the thick of grieving about the children you may never have, it may be painful, but try to enjoy the children around you if you can. They’re pretty cool. If you can’t, I understand. It will get easier.

I have new Childless by Marriage Facebook page at Drop by there, give it a “like” and keep up with all things related to the book, this blog, and the world of childlessness.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

If you marry someone older, does that mean no kids?

A comment on a recent post--Will he change his mind? Sept. 18--made me wonder how many of us are married to people who are substantially older than we are. The woman who commented yesterday said her husband was 20 years older. He had been married twice before and had one daughter. Now, a few years into the marriage, they're not only not having children, but they're not having sex either. She's thinking about leaving him in the hope she can find someone else and become a mom.

You might want to take another look at the link I posted Wednesday to that great article about how if we marry an older man, we'll end up childless, sex starved and cutting his toenails. It's funny, but the author makes some serious points.

My first husband was only 3 1/2 years older, but that marriage didn't last. Fred was 15 years older. I admit in my book that he was sometimes kind of a father figure. He had three kids from his first marriage and didn't want any more, but he was still a fabulous husband, and I'm not sorry I married him. However, in the end, I did give up children and wound up taking care of him.

Does marrying an older man (or woman) mean you won't have kids? Not necessarily. Two of my older male friends married substantially younger women and both couples had babies together.

It's a risk. If you marry someone who is more than a decade older, he may not seem old now, but he will always be at a different place in his life than you are, and he will become a senior citizen, with retirement and possible health problems, long before you do. He may well not want to be still parenting in his 50s, 60s or 70s.

So what's the answer? I think it varies with every couple. What do you think? Does hooking up with an older partner make it likely you'll never have children?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New book Being Fruitful Without Multiplying is out now

A new book called Being Fruitful Without Multiplying has just been released in paperback and e-book formats. It’s a collaboration of several authors who write about their fulfilling lives without children. My copy is on the way. Help them out and order a copy. (While you’re at it, buy a copy of Childless by Marriage, too). They’ve got a Facebook group you might want to visit. Just look for "Being Fruitful without Multiplying." I haven't read the book yet, but I think it will help us all feel better about not having children.

Here are a couple of other fun links to click on. 
Try this new piece titled "Single and Childless: Can We Just Move On?" by "Savvy Auntie" Melanie Notkin at the Huffington Post.

The headline alone on this one cracked me up. "Never Marry an Older Man. You'll End Up Childless, Sex-Starved and Cutting his Toenails." I don't want to insult my late husband, but um, yes, that might happen. :-) If you marry an older man, it might be fine when you're both in the prime of life, but somebody he might get old. On the other hand, there are benefits to marrying an actual grownup. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Choosing childlessness for God or art

A woman at church came flaunting her eight-month-old granddaughter yesterday. She brought her right up to me and another childless woman in the choir, apparently thinking that because we’re female, of course we want to see the baby. The child is beautiful, a blue-eyed doll who stared at me the whole time. I was appropriately complimentary, even as I felt that familiar squeeze of pain. Put simply, I want one of those and I’ll never have one.

But anyway . . . We’ve been talking about religion and how we might feel especially left out at church. Let’s look at another aspect, which I suppose is particular to the Catholic church. Priests and nuns take vows of chastity. They agree to never marry or have children. They sacrifice parenthood for a life devoted to God. In essence, they take God as their spouse. Although occasionally someone leaves the religious life to marry and have a family, I have never heard any religious people who stayed with it complain about not being able to have children.

The reasoning in the church is that one cannot be fully committed to the religious life with the distractions of a human family. In other churches where marriage and parenthood is allowed, the ministers seem to make it work, but not always. For example, one Episcopal priest I know decided not to get married because she felt she couldn’t do both effectively.

It’s not only priests and nuns who decide they can’t be parents and do their life’s work at the same time. Many artists of all sorts choose a life without children. Although I always thought I could write and be a mom, too, I often wonder how I would have had time to do my writing and music while raising a family. Perhaps I would have had to wait until now, when my children would be grown and living elsewhere, to dive into my career. All those years not raising children gave me the freedom to pursue my dreams. If I were the one showing off the baby grandchild, I would not have been able to concentrate on playing the piano at church, a job I love.

I’m just saying that sometimes people choose a life without children because it fulfills them in other ways. Maybe we didn’t choose that life. Maybe it chose us, but maybe we’re meant to do something else, something we couldn’t do it we had kids. Think about it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Do the childless feel welcome at church?

My last post about religion and childlessness has brought in so many comments I think we should keep talking about it.

Let's talk about another aspect of the religion question. I wonder how many childless people stay away from organized religion because most churches are so family-oriented. The pews seem to be filled with couples and their children. The older folks bring their grandchildren. And here you are, sans offspring. If you're like me, widowed, divorced, single, or married to someone who doesn't share your faith, you also come sans spouse. It's lonely. You feel left out of all the "family" activities. Perhaps you stop going to church.

On the other hand, the people at church can become your family. They have for me. I sing for the children, sing with the choir at Mass, share lunches, dinners and picnics with the other parishioners, and spend holidays with my church friends and their kids. On my last birthday, it was the church ladies who surprised me with a big party and a pile of presents.

I suppose it's a question of attitude. Organized religion, with its "go forth and multiply" philosophy, can make us feel worse about not having children, reminding us that we are different. But if we can get past the fact that we aren't like the other parishioners (or members of the temple or mosque), if we can join in the activities and trust that God knows what he's doing, religion can be a great comfort. When I really look around, I realize I'm not the only childless woman or widow there, and it's good to not be alone.

What do you think about all this? Again, be kind in your comments. No religion-bashing, okay?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Religion and childlessness--is there a connection?

I don't usually get into religion here. Everyone has different beliefs, and I don't want to offend anyone. In my interviews with childless women, most insisted that religion played absolutely no role in their decisions about having children. This surprised me. But I didn't consult God in the matter either.

I'm Catholic. Catholics have a reputation for reproducing, but I didn't know until I started researching my book that using birth control was a sin and that abortion was grounds for excommunication. I had no idea. My formal religious education ended at age 13, when the nuns probably assumed we were too young to even think about sex. In my case, they were right. So they never talked about it. My mother's entire advice about sex was "don't." I didn't until I met the man who became my first husband.

I had fallen away from the church by the time I started dating Jim. When he escorted me to the student health center for birth control pills, I didn't think, "Oh no, this is a sin." I took the pills. Later, I switched to a diaphagm, and later still, after a divorce and several boyfriends with benefits, I married a man who had had a vasectomy. Sin, sin, sin. But I didn't think of it that way. I was just trying not to get pregnant when conditions were wrong and then wishing I could get pregnant when conditions were right. A strict Catholic would say I was trying to manage a part of life that is supposed to be up to God. Furthermore, they would say that my lack of children now is my punishment for being a big old sinner.

I believe in a kinder God who believes we screw up and forgives us. He may even have planned for me to be childless so that I could do other things. Still, when I'm around my Catholic friends, I don't say much about how I came to be childless. I just look sad and change the subject.

How about you? Does religion have anything to do with your thinking about whether or not to have children? In what way?

I welcome your comments. Please be kind to one another. I know religion is a dangerous topic. It shouldn't be, but it is, and I want this blog to remain a safe place for all of us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Emotional infertility and other questions to ponder

Jody of,, shared a link today for an article called "It's Not My Fault That I Missed the Chance to Become a Mother" by Megan Lloyd Davies. This is a great article about "emotional infertility," a term I had not heard before. It basically refers to people who don't have kids because they never found the right partner or the one they found didn't want kids. It also acknowledges, thank God, that this can be as painful as physical infertility. Give it a read.You may be comforted by the conclusions Megan reaches and join me in booing some of the thoughtless comments.

Question? How come I read so much more about childlessness from the UK than I do in the US press? A lot of those ladies over there are buying my book, too, via Kindle. Thank you so much. Are Americans less comfortable discussing the subject? Just wondering.

This whole childless thing varies by culture. Every few months I read about someone in India who has committed suicide because they couldn't have kids. You may be grieving, feeling left out, or just plain pissed because life hasn't given you children, but imagine living in a place where you're shunned, harassed and completely shut out of the family if you can't squeeze a baby out of your uterus. These men and women need our prayers.

In both the US and UK, about one-fifth of women reach age 45 without reproducing, but the statistics are more complicated than that. An article by Jessica Valenti in women's e-news this week quotes a Pew Research Center study that showed the most educated women are the most likely group to never have a child. In 2008, 24 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with medical or legal, master's or doctoral degrees had not had children. I have seen similar statistics many times. Why do you think this is? FYI, I have a master's degree, and my late husband had one, too.

I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Will he change his mind?

My first husband said he'd leave if I got pregnant. The marriage ended before I had a chance to see if he meant it. My second husband, who had three children from his first marriage, said he really didn't want any more. I was 33 and he was 48. We had talked about reversing his vasectomy or adopting a child. The odds of a successful surgery so long after the vasectomy were slim. Adoption agencies felt Fred was too old. And now he was saying he didn't want to do the dad thing again.  But did I believe him? Deep inside, I still thought I was going to be a mother. How? Immaculate conception? Miracle? Well, I was Catholic.

As age 40 rolled around, I grieved the loss of the children I never had. I felt the pressure of time passing, of my fertility running out. But it would be another 10 years before I could say and believe that I was never going to be a mother. Life would have been easier for all of us if I had accepted the truth sooner and put more energy into developing a stronger relationship with Fred's children. But no, I was still telling myself that a baby of my own was coming.

How many of us play these mind games, thinking our partner or spouse will change his/her mind? I suppose they do sometimes, but usually they don't. One of the things I have learned over the years is that you can't change other people, only yourself. So if the person you love says no to kids, it's up to you to decide what you're going to do about it.

Have you seen anyone change their minds about having children? Tell us what happened.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tasty hot links for the childless

While I recover from a killer migraine, here are some tasty tidbits to chew on.  Jane Ratcliffe presents a wonderful piece called "My Feline Family" about how her life didn’t go as planned. She's 50, sans husband or kids, but it’s a good life anyway. Read about it at

We talked about the Republicans a couple weeks ago. But honestly, the Democrats were just as bad. I adore Michelle Obama, but “Mom in chief?” Sigh. There was a great blog post on it at, but it seems to have been taken offline since I first read it. Double sigh. But really, did you feel represented by either party?

I just finished reading a wonderful book that is not about childlessness overall, but does have some things of interest to us. It’s called Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed, who is also the author of Wild. It’s an advice book but nothing like Ann Landers or any of the ladies giving advice in the papers now. Writing as Sugar, Strayed not only answers the questions but goes deep into her own experiences and shares the wisdom she has gained. Two of these letters are about childlessness. The first is from a woman who finds her fertility running out but doesn’t have a partner. Should she try to have a baby alone? The second is from a 41-year-old man who thinks he might want kids but isn’t sure Meanwhile, his partner is even less sure. Again, they’re running out of time. “Sugar’s” answers are wise and wonderful and good advice for anyone in these situations. She does not say whether or not to do it, but helps her readers figure out the answers themselves. 

For me now, the answer is to go someplace warmer than this office and take a nap. See you Tuesday.