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.