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.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Watch out for those baby pictures

It happened again last night. I was getting ready to lead church choir practice when one of the older women whipped out her brand new iPad. "Want to see my favorite picture?" she asked me.

I said, "Sure," but I was thinking, "No, not really." I had had one of those afternoons when I question the purpose of my life, when I feel awful because I'm alone and getting older and nothing seems to be worth the effort. What, Sue has those days? Yes, I do. You look back, and most of the older generation has died. You look forward, and there's nobody there. And you ask the dog, "Why bother?" The dog wags her tail. She moseys over and licks my face. She doesn't worry about such questions, only when do we eat and when are we going for a walk?

Back at choir practice. I just know this is going to be a baby picture. Yep. It's her son and granddaughter. Her son looks like my late husband, and of course the granddaughter is cute. This is not the day to show me that picture. "Nice," I say, hurrying back to the piano.

As the choir trickles in, she has to show everyone the picture. This is a woman who didn't even have email a month ago, and now she's toting an iPad full of family photos everywhere she goes.

Rehearsal comes to a halt every time someone new walks in and has to see the picture. Then they're pulling out their Smartphones to show their own grandchildren. Meanwhile, I just want to get through the songs and get the heck out of there. Not one person realizes that their director's emotions are so raw that one more mention of family and she'll bleed on the piano keys.

It's the mom club and she's not a member.

Most of the time I'm okay, but sometimes, it still hurts like crazy. To all the mothers and grandmothers out there, yes, your baby pictures are beautiful, but sometimes it hurts to look at them. Forgive me if I don't linger over your beloved photos. I just can't. But if you'd like to see a few dozen pictures of my dog . . .

Have you ever experienced this, where you feel totally left out of the mom club and full of emotions you don't know what to do with? What do you do?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

“Back to school:” What does it mean if you don’t have kids?

Once upon a time, September brought golden leaves, new clothes and the first day of school for my brother and me. While the dew was still wet on the grass, we posed on the front sidewalk for pictures in our new school clothes. Then we kissed Mom goodbye, picked up our sack lunches and shiny new binders and walked the three blocks to Cypress School, excited to meet our teachers and reunite with our friends.

Many years have passed. For people who went on to have children of their own, September is a time of getting ready for the new school year. The moms who were once the children now buy clothes and shiny new binders for their own children. They kiss them goodbye, send them off to school and sigh in relief that their kids are taken care of till 3:00. In the evenings, they help them with their homework and prepare lunches and clothes for the next day. The cycle of life goes on.

But what does the beginning of school mean for those of us who don’t have children? Some of us are teachers who say they have hundreds of children from September to June and love them all.

Some of us are students ourselves, taking college or university classes in preparation for new careers or just to learn. For many years, I was one of those students. I earned my bachelor’s degree before I got married, but I kept going back to school, studying photography and then taking three tries at a master’s degree in writing before I succeeded. If I had had children, I probably would never have earned that degree or spent those earlier years going back to school. College costs so much these days. It’s a luxury that parents struggle to provide for their children. No way can they pay for more education for themselves at the same time.

I dropped out the first time because I was getting divorced and couldn’t afford school anymore. A few years after Fred and I got married, I went back to school. I spent two years taking classes to qualify for the master’s program and was just starting to take master’s-level courses when my stepson Michael moved in with us. I was delighted to have him, but I was working for two newspapers and now I had a child to take care of. I never got to my homework before midnight, and my professors seemed to think school was the only thing we had to do. I reluctantly dropped out.

It was only after Michael grew up and we moved to Oregon that I had the time to finish my degree. I enrolled in a low-residency program and pushed on through the deaths of my mother-in-law and my mother and the beginning of my husband’s illness to finally achieve my goal of a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. I’m still paying on my student loan at an age when lots of people are retired.

I’m not telling you this to boast. I’m trying to make a point. If Fred and I had had children together, we would have spent all our money on their education. My education would be over. Being childless allowed me to focus on my own career and education, and that has been a blessing. When you get to feeling down about not having children, especially in times when so much attention is placed on the kids going back to school, think about how you are free to do things that moms can only dream about.

Is there something you would like to do and can do because you don’t have children to take care of? Why not do it?

Friday, September 7, 2012

A picnic basket for the childless

Dear friends,
Occasionally I need to gather up the miscellany and  put it all into a picnic basket for you to savor. Here goes:

"Creating a new life for yourself as a childless woman" at offers comfort and ideas for digging ourselves out of the pity trench and moving on.

"But Who will Love Me When I'm Old?" at addresses the question that plagues many of us. If we don't have children, who will be there for us?

Then there's "What if you don't want children, but your husband or partner does?" at the Children or Not blog. It's a twist on the question at the heart of this blog and my book. What if you're the one who doesn't want kids?

Yesterday, a friend told me she has found the daughter she gave up for adoption more than 40 years ago. Now she's a grown woman with a daughter of her own. She said she hesitated to tell me because she knew I was sensitive on the subject. I knew I should be happy for her, and I am, but mostly I wanted to wail right there in the mall. Why couldn't it be me showing off a photo of my daughter and granddaughter? Know what I mean?

If you happen to be in or near Lincoln County, Oregon, I'm leading a discussion on childlessness this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. It's free, including refreshments. I'll tell my story, share a little from my book, then invite everyone to talk about it. If you live a little farther away, would you be interested in having me come lead a similar discussion in your town? Let me know at

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Baby Talk on LABOR Day

I had dinner at a friend’s house last night to celebrate Labor Day. She and her husband have just welcomed a new grandchild and their first great-grandchild. Between phone calls from the new parents, they talked about the babies, showed pictures and went on and on about family matters. Meanwhile, I cuddled their calico cat, Sophie, in my lap, loving the feeling of her purring against my legs, even as she coated my navy blue slacks with white fur.

My friend knows I don’t have children and wish I did. She knows I max out quickly on baby talk. After the first hour or so, she declared a moratorium on talking about the kids. Although babies still drifted into the conversation, we did discuss many other subjects throughout the evening. The food was good, the house is charming, and the cat is adorable. They’re good friends.

They have health problems and money problems. The best thing in their lives right now is those new babies. So who can blame them if they’re flashing photos, talking about them all the time, and making plans to visit? As a friend, it seems right for me to climb out of my pity pot and share their joy. The babies aren’t mine, but they are still a gift to the world, which includes me, too.

Still, I’m glad they had a cat to cuddle. When I got home, I let my 77-pound dog climb into my lap and we watched “Bachelor Pad” on TV together until we both fell asleep.

Did Labor Day take you into the world of babies? How was it?