Monday, January 30, 2012

Our secret grief

A while back, I wrote a post about the Savvy Auntie, a book and blog by Melanie Notkin. She writes about the joys of being a childless aunt. I highly recommend you check her out. Even with the joys of aunthood, Melanie admits to grieving over the children she never had. Earlier this month, she published an article in Psychology Today titled, "My Secret Grief: Over 35, Single, and Childless." It's a touching piece about that grief that people with kids don't always understand. After all, they think, we could have had children. If we didn't, it's our own fault. You and I know that's not always true. Melanie tells it well.

Last week, I went to lunch with a bunch of church ladies. Inevitably, much of the conversation focused on their children. People talked about their latest escapades, compared their ages, remembered how they were growing up. A friend showed photos of her pregnant daughter-in-law's sonogram. I didn't have much to say. Finally, a woman across from me said, "You have kids, don't you, Sue?" "No, I don't," I said. "I thought you did." "Nope." And then there was this silence. You know that silence? Oh yes.

A younger woman who arrived late took the seat beside me. I noticed her sparkling engagement ring, and she smilingly admitted that she and her fiance had finally set a date. They have been together off and on for seven years. She is anxious to have children, but now she's in her 40s and doesn't know if she can. "If it's God's will, I'll get pregnant," she said. I believe in God, but I wanted to wring her fiance's neck. Does he not understand that if you wait too long, you lose the chance to have kids? Seven years. Grrr.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. You know what? It's okay to grieve, but it's also okay to just get mad. Then maybe we can do something about it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I Dream About a Boy and a Man

Nine months ago this morning, my husband Fred was dying. I dreamed last night that I saw him in a parking garage. Standing beside me was a little boy, slender, maybe 11 years old, our son. Fred was dressed up for work, looking wonderful, his hair and beard still brown. I was shocked to see him. It was a miracle. "Are you back?" I asked. "I guess so. I'm here," he said. I kept staring at him, trying to drink him in. Finally, he kissed us both goodbye, then got into the car and drove away.

I put my arms around my son. He looked very Hispanic, clearly from my side of the family. We started to dance. "You're a great dancer already," I said. "Just like your dad." We danced for a long time. Then I turned around and saw on the floor a pair of blue socks still in the shape of Fred's feet. I knew he was gone.

Morbid and weird, I know, but I'm struck by my dream about this son. Over the years I've had lots of baby dreams where I was pregnant or had an infant in my arms. This is the first time I've dreamed about an older child. It's like he was sent to comfort me.

I wonder what it would be like if I had the real thing. He'd be at school now. This afternoon, I'd be waiting to greet him instead of preparing to walk the dog. Oh well. Perhaps Fred was sending me a gift on this anniversary, telling me he's still here, even if I can't see or touch him anymore.

Do you dream about babies or children you might have had? Let's share.
Did I tell you my essay, "My Imaginary Daughter?" has been published in the current edition of Still Crazy literary magazine? You might not have heard of it, but it's a fun read, available online as well as in paper.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is it still a family without kids?

Yesterday as I looked out at the falling snow and had only the dog to tell about it, I got to thinking that I have done pretty well with the career side of my life and with my own personal growth, but have totally failed at the family side. Here I am in my late 50s with no kids, no grandkids, and no husband, just a dog. What's left of my birth family is far away. Sure, I have lots of friends, but it's not the same. When you grow up, get married and have kids, it's not just about finding a man or giving birth; it's about creating a family. Which apparently I did not do. Or maybe I was just unlucky to lose two husbands, one through divorce, and one through death.

This is so depressing I probably should delete it, but let's talk about what makes a family. We all know that "family" is a code word for children. When the church holds a "family Halloween party," I know it's going to be all about kids. Sure, it's politically correct to talk about all kinds of formations: two moms and a child, a dad and a child, a childless couple with three cats, etc. But that's not what most people mean by "family."

What really makes a family? I think it's a group of people you can count on and feel completely at home with because you're all woven from the same cloth. You usually share a history, culture, beliefs and biology, but maybe you can make a family without the biology part.

My dictionary's first definition of family says it's "a group of individuals living under one roof." That's pretty broad. Another definition talks about people or animals "deriving from common stock." Hmm.

What do you think? What is a family? If you don't have children, how do you create one? I'd love to hear your comments.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Words to ponder about childlessness, motherhood and puppies

This month's issue of The Sun, a literary magazine that I love, has a whole page of quotes about childbirth and babies. Most are about the joys of giving birth--something we haven't experienced.

This one echoes what many people have said about childbirth:"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."--Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Do you think this is true?

And I like this one, just to tickle the brain:"If death is the end of life, what is birth the end of?"--Jarod Kintz.

If the above make you feel bad, read this beautiful post by Abbie Smith about being childless yet using our mother energy in other ways at the "Unsteady Saint" blog. I think you will like it.

By the way, my neighbor's dog had nine golden retriever puppies. I have visited them a couple times and got to hold one. They are the softest, most beautiful things ever. I think baby dogs can cure almost anything, don't you?



Monday, January 9, 2012

New focus for Childless by Marriage book

As many of you know, I have been working on a book called Childless by Marriage for several years. At least four times, I have considered the manuscript finished. So far, no big publisher has accepted it, but it keeps coming close, and I have hope that that will be accepted this year. One way or another, it is going to be published.

I was out of town on a book-selling trip last November when, as I sank into a well-earned hot bath, I had a sudden realization that changed the focus of the book. I jumped out and typed for the next three hours in my bathrobe. All this time, I have been trying to leave out the fact that my husband Fred had Alzheimer's Disease, that he spent two years in a nursing home, and that he died in April, 2011. I didn't want to bum people out, it didn't seem like part of the book, and, until April, I didn't know when it would end.

But I realized in November that Fred's illness is an important part of the story. I can't hide it from my readers. I wound up caring for him as if he were my child. And, because we had no children together, I did it alone. Now, as a widow, it makes a huge difference that I don't have grown children and grandchildren to turn to for help and for company.

So now the focus is more on my connection with Fred, the love that led me to give up children in order to have him, and the cruel turn that left me without either one. In essence, I chose Fred, and this is what happened. What do you think?


A piece of good news: An excerpt from the book, a chapter called "My Imaginary Daughter," appears in the January issue of Still Crazy, a terrific literary magazine. Click here for info.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can you forgive him or her for not giving you children?

Last week, one of my readers asked if I had written about forgiveness. It’s key to moving on past a lack of children, she said. I had not, but I think we should talk about it.

In a marriage where one partner can’t or doesn’t want to have children and the other one does, somebody is not going to get what they want. There’s just no way around it. Either you split up and look for someone who feels the same way, or one of you gives in. The person who didn’t really want kids agrees to have them anyway or the one did want them remains childless. It’s a painful situation. Do you love the other person enough to make this kind of sacrifice? And if you do, is part of you going to hate them forever or can you forgive them?

I was married twice. Husband number one let me know a couple years into the marriage that he did not want children, couldn’t stand babies and would leave me if I had one. Would he really have done that? I don’t know. After six years, we divorced. Looking back, I know that he was not an evil person. He was just young. He was not ready to be a father, even if I felt completely ready to have a baby. Should I hate him? No. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Then came Fred, husband number two. When we got married, he was 48 years old. His kids were 18, 16, and 8. He and his first wife had spent years raising them, and now freedom was in sight. He didn’t want to start over with another baby. In fact, he had had a vasectomy to make sure he and his ex wouldn’t conceive again. I know that he loved me enough that if I had insisted on having a child, he would have agreed to seek a way to make me pregnant, but I didn’t insist. I just ran around feeling sorry for myself. I can understand all that now, and I can forgive him. He didn’t give me children of my own but he gave me so many other things.

I’m still working on forgiving myself.

If you’re in the throes of unfulfilled baby lust, it isn’t easy to forgive anyone or anything who denies you a child. But try, just for a minute, to see things from their perspective. Maybe you can’t forgive them yet. Maybe you can’t live with this and need to find another mate or another way to deal with the situation. But try to see things from their side. What makes them feel the way they do? Understanding is the first step toward finding a solution you both can live with.

So, in this new year, however it turns out, whatever you have to do, try a little forgiveness.