Monday, December 23, 2013

Kitty purrs and puppy kisses for Christmas

My friend’s dog just died. He’s heartbroken. He took this dog everywhere with him, just adored her. He and his wife have human children and grandchildren who all live far away. In recent years, the dog was their baby. Now instead of celebrating Christmas, all he wants to do is cry. As a dog mom, I know how he feels.

For many of us, our dogs and cats are our only babies, and we treat them that way. Some people go overboard. I always feel sorry for the pets forced to wear reindeer antlers or jingle bells. That can’t be comfortable. Of course there are those folks who also dress their dogs and cats in velvet and fake-fur hats and coats or Christmas sweaters for the holidays.

Have you seen the YouTube video of the cat being wrapped like a Christmas present? You’ll laugh, I promise.You may also be tempted to watch the many other offerings there. They're funny but also true.

How many of us hang up Christmas stockings for our fur babies or put gifts for them under the tree? Surveys have shown that nearly half of us give our pets wrapped gifts for their birthdays and Christmas. I actually don’t. My dog Annie tends to eat everything I give her, whether it’s food or not. Also, I don’t think she likes Christmas. I’m gone too much, and our schedule is all out of whack. But I know plenty of people whose pets are on the gift list.

Most of us consider our pets part of the family. But how far does that go? Do you put your pets’ names on your Christmas cards? For me, it depends on whether or not the recipient knows Annie, but there’s something about being able to write down multiple names that makes it feel more like a family.For a while in my younger days, I secretly hoped some people would see the name on my card and think I had had a baby. They didn't need to know it was a dog.

How about you? Do you give your pets presents, dress them up for Christmas or include their names in their holiday greetings?

Bonus question: Does your family think you’re nuts?

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your lives with me all these years. May your holidays be full of kitty purrs and puppy kisses.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Immediate help for childless holiday survival

Holidays making you nuts? You can survive. You will survive. Here are some things that might make it easier.

Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion. Lisa Manterfield and Kathleen Guthrie Woods, who write the Life Without Baby blog, have compiled their favorite holiday blog posts  into one 57-page e-book that just might help you get through these crazy days. Family traditions getting you down? Is it kids, kids, kids everywhere you turn? Tired of people asking when you’re going to have children? This little e-book offers advice for all those situations and more. Plus it’s fun to read. You can download it right now and be reading it just in time to face Christmas with a more positive outlook.

Watch a movie! Television being full of sappy specials these days, I've been using my Netflix movie subscription to the max. Last night I watched "The Last Ride," which is a fictionalized story about country music star Hank Williams. So good. Not a baby or pregnant woman to be seen. Earlier this week, I watched "Great Gatsby" with Leonardo DiCaprio. Wonderful and also childfree. You could rent this version and the older one with Robert Redford and spend almost five hours in no-baby bliss. Another excellent movie is "Now is Good," which is about a young woman who is trying to pack everything into her life before she dies of a fatal illness. No babies, and it's very upbeat despite the subject matter.

If you're into monsters, suspense, fantasy or romance, I'm sure there's a movie out there for you. Go to the theater or stay home and watch it on your DVD player or Internet-connected device and forget all about your troubles.

Can you suggest some other great distractions?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Some Tidbits for Your Childless Christmas Stocking

I’ll bet most of us are going a little crazy with Christmas only a week away. I was out of town for my dad’s surgery in early December (he's doing great), so I got all off schedule. To catch up, I decided to do everything in one day: shopping, cards and decorating. For those inclined to try it, take my advice and don’t. About a third of the way through the decorations, I started sobbing. It was just too hard with no kids, no husband, and no family nearby. Why bother? The dog hovered around me, trying to lick my face as I dove deep into my pity party. 

The next day I was over it and finished what I could, deciding I didn't need to do everything I had done every year before. To be honest, not having children or grandchildren meant a lot fewer gifts to worry about. I had my presents in the mail before the post office closed at noon. Now I’m done decorating and almost finished with the cards. I'm finally able to listen to Christmas carols.

As we established in last week’s post, I don’t have any young children in my life. Everybody’s kids have grown up. But that’s not the case for lots of childless people. This time of year, they find themselves surrounded by people obsessed with making Christmas special for their kids. I’ll bet some of you can identify with this reader’s dilemma over the family gift exchange in the Ask Carolyn column. I like Carolyn’s answer. Do you?
In lieu of any brilliant thoughts of my own today, I offer two additional articles that I think you’ll find worth reading. In the first one, Jody Day of Gateway-Women offers a powerful essay, "Childlessness is a Political, as Well as a Deeply Personal, Issue" on the difficulties of being childless at Christmas  and throughout the year.

This piece, “I’m So Glad I’ve Frozen My Eggs,” linked from the Have Children or Not blog, offers a fascinating look at one possibility for women who are worried about not being able to have children until after their eggs are too old.

Happy reading, and please try to enjoy all the good things about the holidays and let the rest go. As always, I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

‘Otherhood’ and Fifty Ways to Be Childless

Today’s post is a trio of goodies for you:

1. Jody Day at has compiled a wonderful list called “50 Ways Not to Be a Mother—with Apologies to Paul Simon." It’s amazing how many different ways a person can wind up not having children, a lot of them through absolutely no fault or choice of their own. Me, I seem to fit numbers 9 and 39. Check out the list and see what number fits your situation.

2. Some of those 50 ways deal with not having a suitable partner, which leads me to my second link. Melanie Notkin, author of Savvy Auntie and the accompanying blog, has written a new book called Otherhood: The Unrequited Love Story of Modern Women, which talks about how many of us never find the right partner. As a result, we don’t become parents. It’s due out in February, but you can pre-order it now. Melanie has also written about this at her Huffington Post blog. Read "The Truth About the Childless Life" there.   

3. Marcia Drut-Davis, author of a new book titled Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream, has a blog called Childfree Reflections, which may offer some comfort to you. The site includes a free resource list, but I must warn you that you have to sign up for the newsletter to get it, and nearly all of the resources are for people who are childfree by choice.

Oh what the heck, I’ll plug my own site. I’ve got a ridiculously long resource list on my Childless by Marriage website, which you can access with no strings. If you’d like to buy my book, I’d be delighted, but the list is my gift to you.

Have a wonderful week.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Are Your Pets Your Fur Babies?

Fur babies. A lot of childless women are tossing this term around these days. For some reason, it makes me cringe. God knows I love my dog, but is she my baby? I sure feel like it when I’m taking her to the vet or standing on the deck at dawn saying “Go potty. Come on, please go potty.” I am responsible for the care and feeding of this creature. But I’m not her mother. Her mother was a Staffordshire bull terrier. I’m quite aware that at 5 ½, Annie is a mature dog who will soon pass me in the life cycle, get old and ultimately die while I’m still hoping for many more years of life.

My dog is my dog, my companion, my responsibility, but not my child.

I see a lot of people treating their animals as their children. An article called “Fur Babies—An Alternative to Having Kids?” on The ‘How-To’ Dog Blog addresses this fur baby situation quite well. Writer Amanda Huggett Hofland admits that she and her husband might be using their two cats and dog as practice children while they decide whether or not they want to have human children. She talks about people who throw parties for their pets, dress them up in little clothes, tell them stories, and call themselves “mom and dad.” Although it seems crazy, she finds herself doing these things, too. But are pets a valid alternative to having children?

The blog post quotes experts who raise some interesting questions about the pet-human relationship as a substitute for having babies. Ultimately it’s not the same, they conclude, although there are many benefits to be had from owning pets.

I agree. I don’t know what I’d do without Annie. But I also know that I can shut the door and go about my life without her whenever I choose, something I couldn’t do with an actual baby. I also know that right now we’re both covered with flea bites, thanks to her thick fur. Dogs are great, but dogs are not kids.

Somehow in my mind, the folks who dress dogs and cats in baby clothes are doing exactly what we did as children; they're playing with dolls. Except these dolls are living breathing animals. What do you think? Do you treat your pets as substitute children? Is it crazy or a good way to fill the void?

BTW, the ‘How-To’ Dog Blog offers lots of good advice about dog care. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Would you marry someone who is infertile?

We often talk here about couples in which one partner is not willing to have children. Sometimes they discuss it before they get married. Other times it comes as a rude surprise to the partner who wants kids. But what about situations where one partner, for whatever reason, physically cannot make babies? What if you knew that going in? Would you sacrifice children for love?

I’ve been doing a little reading about marriages in which a partner is infertile. Many of the listings that come up are religious discussions. As you might expect, the Catholics dominate. The main thought is that for a marriage to be valid, the couple must have a sexual union. That means if a partner is impotent, i.e., can’t have sex, and they know it before the wedding, they can’t have a valid marriage. If it happens later, that’s okay. But if the couple is infertile, that does not invalidate the marriage. If their sexual union does not result in children, they’re still married.

Some folks are using the same arguments in their debate about gay marriage. After all, a same-sex couple cannot  procreate without outside help. But they do have a sexual union. I’m not going to get into whether or not gay marriage is a good thing. I think if people love each other, they should be allowed to be together. Period. But it does underscore the question I am asking today: Would you marry someone who is unable to provide the necessary sperm or egg to conceive a child? Or is that a deal breaker?

In my case, I knew Fred had had a vasectomy, and I knew it had taken 16 years for him and his first wife to get pregnant. But in my usual unrealistic way, I figured we could overcome all that and pop out some babies while I was still in my fertile 30s. What if I had known that there was absolutely no chance? What if instead of saying he didn’t want more children, he’d said, “I can’t.” Would I have married him? I honestly don’t know. I think I would have. I really loved him and didn’t have other prospects. But I’d have been forced to consciously choose a life without the children I always thought I’d have. (Yes, we could have had the adoption talk and I would have learned that no, he didn’t want to do that, so the result would have been the same, but that’s a whole other discussion.) 

What if I were the one with the fertility problem? Would I expect a man to give up children for me? Would I be constantly afraid that no man would have me if I couldn’t give him sons and daughters? How and when would I tell the guys I dated? Would I feel guilty about depriving them of kids?

When couples disagree, that’s hard, but infertility is a whole other thing, full of sadness. It’s not a rare thing either. The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site lists statistics for infertility. The percentage of women ages 15-44 with “impaired fecundity” is 10.9 percent or 6.7 million. Stop and think about that. One in 10. On the male side in the same age group, 13.9 percent were surgically sterile (usually vasectomy), 4.2 percent sterile for other reasons and another 5.2 percent considered subfertile, meaning conception was possible but not likely. That’s a lot of guys, nearly a quarter of them.

So how do you feel about that? Would you marry someone you knew was infertile? I would love to hear what you think about this.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blogger Lesley Pyne offers childless readers “Small Steps to Healing”

Every now and then I receive comments from people, mostly women, who are struggling so hard with their childless state that I really worry about them. In some cases, I’m even afraid they might be thinking about killing themselves. That sounds melodramatic, but when I read comments like “I can’t go on” and “I just don’t see how I can live with this,” warning bells go off in my head. I have written before about how sometimes it might be a good idea to seek professional help. See “When You Can’t Bear the Childless Grief Alone.” I’m not a counselor; I’m a writer, and I have been in therapy off and on for years. It can be very helpful.

I received an email earlier this month from Lesley Pyne, a woman in the UK who has experienced involuntary childlessness herself and has set up a blog at to help other childless women. She is also offering some one-on-one counseling and workshops. She asked me to share her blog and her services with my readers here. My first reaction was no. I thought: She’s treating childlessness as a disability or a disease. Yes, we experience loss and grief, but doesn’t everybody have something they feel bad about? And yes, those who have been unable to conceive or lost babies through miscarriages and stillbirths must suffer far more than I can imagine. But are we making it worse by turning it into a handicap?

However, I’ve been reading the blog, and I can see how it might help people deal with their situations, especially those who are not comfortable with the idea or the cost of going to see a therapist. The “Small Steps to Healing” that Pyle recommends really do look helpful. She also offers a lot of resources and information on childlessness. If you just don’t know what to do with yourself, give it a try. It might help you to find a new way of looking at things, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re trying to decide what to do about your marriage or your efforts to conceive.

And remember, we’re always here for you and you’re welcome to comment or share your stories anonymously. You can also find more links and tips at my Childless by Marriage Facebook page. You do not have to go through this alone.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Can you have meaningful work and babies, too?

An article titled “Books and Babies” in one of my writing magazines, Poets & Writers (March-April 2013), caught my attention for a number of reasons. I’ve never seen anything like it in a publication for writers. Usually the articles are about things like plot and characters and how to sell your writing. They never talk about babies. But here it was, the cover story in Poets & Writers, with photos of couples with their toddlers and their baby bumps.

Part of me thought: oh God, they’re everywhere now. Just like in all the restaurants where I try to eat in this tourist town in the summer. Babies every-freaking-where. And I thought, oh, the childfree crowd is going to hate this.

But part of me thought: Good. This is important. The question Rochelle Spencer, the article’s author, was asking was: What does having babies do to your writing life? She got the answer even before she had a chance to interview the three featured couples. Just scheduling the interviews proved difficult. Having babies clearly changes their working lives. Suddenly their attention is focused on the children, and finding time to write is a challenge. However, in all three of these couples, the husband and wife are both writers and they support each other in ways we might not see in other couples with different kinds of jobs, or in single-parent situations. They both take care of the children, and they give each other time off to write. It’s not as much time as they used to have, and they’re sleep-deprived and distracted, but they’re still writing.

I always thought I would have children AND write. I saw no problem with being a stay-at-home mom who wrote books, stories and poems. Sure, the baby and toddler years would be intense, but soon the kids would be in school for a big chunk of the day and I could write. Basically I would trade my mother’s knitting and needlework for word-work. I did not envision going to an office every day or traveling around the country for whatever job I had. I was never interested in a job. I just wanted to stay home and write.

Of course that’s not what happened. I got divorced, remarried, widowed. I did not have babies, although I did have a live-in stepson for eight years AND I worked all day. The stress of home life plus work was huge. Even when I worked at home, I was literally running between computer and stove, meetings and Boy Scouts, interviews and school functions. When Michael moved in, I was going to grad school; I had to drop out. No way could I add homework to the mix. I get tired just thinking about it—and he was already pushing 12 when he came to live with us.

I admire these couples in Poets & Writers who are having families and continuing their writing careers. I suspect one could find other couples who have given up on their creative work, at least while their kids are small.

I have often thought God wanted me to do my writing and music and knew I couldn’t do it all. When I was interviewing childless women for my Childless by Marriage book, many said they could not do the work they felt drawn to if they had kids. What do you think? Is it possible to combine career and children? Does not having kids allow you to do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise?

Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Giving My Fur Baby a Bath

My big yellow dog sat patiently in the tub as I scrubbed her from nose to tail, taking time to wash her private parts and her ears, all the while talking to her and loving the feel of her under my hands. It did not matter that I was getting all wet or that an elbow injury I’ve been suffering with hurt worse. I was bathing my baby dog Annie, all 80 pounds of her.

We had had less pleasant bathing experiences, like the time I tried to wash her with a garden hose and she ran away or the time I tried to wash her in my bathroom and I wound up in a tub full of fur and stink while she remained on the floor dripping water all over. Usually I just wait until she happens to be staying at the kennel and let the people there bathe her. But sometimes a dog just has to have a bath. This time I took her to Moondoggy, here in Newport, a doggy daycare and spa where they have a place dog owners can wash their own dogs.

It was perfect. Annie walked up three wooden steps into a big tub. A worker helped me loop “seat belts” over her neck, showed me a shelf full of different shampoos and scrubbers and left us to our fun. It was fun. Even Annie seemed to enjoy it. The water was the perfect temperature, and nobody was in a panic about how to wash this giant dog.

When my late husband was around, we washed our dogs in a metal tub in the back yard, one of us holding the dog while the other scrubbed. It’s not as easy with only one set of hands. But Moondoggy worked.

I couldn’t help thinking about how this is a lot like bathing one’s baby. Of course we wouldn’t put a halter around their necks or douse them with flea shampoo, but there’s that same physical closeness, that intimate touch, the loving with our hands that feels so good. I have never washed a human baby, probably never will. I suspect they’d be a lot more slippery and more responsive when I talk to them.

But Annie is my baby dog. She was eight pounds when we brought her home, about the same size as many human babies. My friends gave us a puppy shower. I showed her off to everyone, and I kept track of every milestone. (“Today she doodled outside!”) Now she’s five years old. Every day I’m at home starts and ends with Annie, taking her outside to “go potty,” feeding her, medicating her various infections and ailments, walking with her, talking to her, and loving her.

I wish I had human children, but God gave me this canine child/friend to take care of. It’s not so bad. Do you have a four-legged baby, too?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why are we watching 'The Bachelorette?'

Has anybody else been glued to the TV watching "The Bachelorette?" on Monday nights? I have been completely hooked. I even turned off the phones and the computer for last night's finale. I know, this does not sound like the intellectual fare that someone of my age and education should be watching, but dang it, I can't help myself. We've got beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in beautiful places doing beautiful things. Even the their meals are beautiful--although they rarely seem to actually eat. It's a Cinderella story in which Cinderella aka Desiree does not lose her glass slipper but she does get the handsome prince. And he never says, "Oh by the way, I don't want to have children." The men always say they want kids, and some who already have children insist that they want more. They want two, three, five, eight, a whole dozen.

Last night, as Chris proposed to Des, he included children in his proposal. "Do you want to have kids with me?" I'm sitting on my couch in my nightgown screaming "Yes!" He says all the right things, plus he's handsome and has a good job. Where was this guy when I was dating? Husband number one didn't even bother with a real proposal. Number two had all the right qualities except that he didn't want to have kids with me.

I know, The Bachelorette is a fairy tale. I know that the couples rarely stay together long enough to actually get married. And as far as I know, only one Bachelor/Bachelorette couple has had children together. But don't spoil my dreams with the reality of reality TV. I want to believe they will live happily ever after in a house full of beautiful children and beautiful grandchildren.

In a Huffington Post article titled "What Could You Have Done With All The Hours You Spent Watching 'The Bachelorette'?" Jessica Goodman tallied up how many hours fans have spent watching "The Bachelorette" over the years: 6.54 days or 157 hours. She offers suggestions for other ways we might have used that time. Not one of those suggestions involves kids, but they might be fun. Check it out.

Is watching this show a waste of time? Or is it okay to seek comfort in fantasy when our own lives haven't turned out quite the way we planned? And now what will we do on Monday nights?

I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Childless Can Enjoy Other People's Kids

Last week I expressed my discomfort around other people's babies. Lots of you agreed with me, but not every person without children feels that way. Many are fabulous aunts, godmothers and friends to other people's kids. Others are teachers, caregivers, music directors, or coaches who interact with children all the time. 

Yes, some of us are more at home around puppies than human babies, but a great article posted at Christianity Today called "I'm Childless, Not Child-Incompetent" tells the other side of the story. Please don't let the Christian setting scare you away if you're not religious. It's really about the divide between parents and non-parents and the misconception that all childless people are clueless about babies and don't want to be around them. Author Gina Dalfonzo talks about her relationship with her godchildren and about how people who don't have their own children have special gifts to offer those who do.

I know. Some of us have so little experience with children that we just don't know how to act around them. Others feel so bad about their inability to become parents that they can't look at a baby without bursting into tears. But many childless people jump in and help with kids, and I suspect doing so helps lessen their own feelings of loss or grief. Hey, how else can you get to play with Barbie, sing silly songs or watch the latest Smurf movie?

Read the article and let me know what you think. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Making faces at babies

I have a question. Why am I just plain silly over baby dogs, deer, quail, birds, anything but human babies? When I see baby animals, I hear myself talking in that high silly voice and melting in the way that other women melt at the sight of a human baby. But when I see a baby, I don't know how to act. Aren't they the same thing? So what if human babies have two legs and no fur? They're as small and cute as any puppy. And yet, I don't react the same way.

Last week, I was sitting in a restaurant in Missoula, Montana--Ruby's Cafe, great place--watching this little guy about a year and a half old a couple booths over. Unlike the crazed noisemakers that can spoil the eating experience for some of us, this baby in his blue and white striped onesie was quiet and charming. He was a busy kid, climbing around on the table, playing with the silverware while his parents basically ignored him. One time when I looked up, he had a plastic tub of creamer in each hand. But he was quiet about it.

I watched an older man approach him. The man made faces and waved at the baby as the child grinned. They interacted for several minutes before the man moved on and I went back to my book, thinking why can't I do that? Is it because I have no experience with babies? Am I protecting my heart from the pain of knowing I never will have them while I can have all the dogs I want?

What do you think? How are you around other people's babies? 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Grieving? Find Your 'Fishtrap' Experience

We sat on a circle on the deck, warming in the sun as we wrote poetry. Nearby, the river rushed noisily toward the sea. Squirrels chased each other down the spruce tree and across the deck while a doe silently watched from a few feet away. This was the scene during my mornings last week at the Fishtrap writers workshop in Eastern Oregon. Writers from all over the country gathered to study with experts in all different types of writing. I was one of a dozen in Holly Hughes’ poetry class, a wonderful blend of meditation, mindfulness and creative writing. We writers quickly bonded. There were young people here, too, participating in a program for teens. Young or old, parents or not, married or not, it didn’t matter because we had come together to do something we love. More than spouses or parents or grandparents, we were writers. And I did not feel bad even once about not having children.

In contrast, when I got back to the real world, I visited The Grotto in Portland, which is like a giant Catholic garden, with sculptures and paintings telling the stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph amid the trees and flowers. Recorded music plays above an outdoor chapel as you walk through the gardens, pausing to think about the Bible stories depicted in the art. It’s lovely, but it’s also full of people with their kids. I was walking through the rose garden when I heard a child call “Baba!” I turned to see a woman about my age stop and hold her arms open wide as her granddaughter ran into her embrace. Suddenly I wanted to weep. I had been looking at religious scenes for 45 minutes, feeling nothing, but this I felt. It was one of those moments. If you’re childless, you know what I mean.

But let’s get back to the joy of Fishtrap. If we immerse ourselves in things we love, we can stop dwelling on the children we don’t have and just enjoy being with people who like to do the same things we like to do. There were some people at Fishtrap who were not writers, who had come as chaperones for their teen-aged kids. And you know what? I felt sorry for them because they always had to worry about the kids. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself. I was totally free to write and think and make new friends.

The moral of this story is that you can find relief from your grief by immersing yourself in something you love. It doesn’t have to be writing; it can be anything that takes you out of yourself and into something that captures your mind and heart.

Is there something you can do, someplace you can go to give yourself that Fishtrap feeling?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fourth of July brings out the baby blues

It was Fourth of July. Everyone seemed to be gathered in family groups, and there I was with my dog Annie. My friends I had planned to spend the day with had suddenly gotten busy with visiting children and grandchildren, so I headed to Yachats, a small town to the south where the 1960s continue unchanged. They were having a street fair. After walking around a little bit, Annie and I settled in one of the plastic chairs near the stage where a group was performing music that seemed to be a blend of reggae, New Age and yoga chants. Annie leaned against my legs, nervous in the crowd, a little worried about the tie-die-garbed woman doing a hula hoop dance a few feet away, the lady doing henna tattoos under the canopy next to the stage, and the tiny human who kept asking if she could pet my doggie. Sure, I said and watched her pat Annie's broad tan back.

Next to me, the little girl's mom exposed her baby bump between her midriff top and long skirt. She had flowers henna-tattooed around and below her navel. I will not let this bother me, I told myself. I sang along with the music, I pet my dog, I stared at the blue sky and green trees rising up behind the stage. The temperature was perfect, we had nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. But there were kids and moms and dads everywhere.

The night before, watching fireworks in Waldport, I was surrounded by couples with children, little ones and big ones. I felt like I didn't fit in. And here, watching barefoot young women in flowing dresses dance with their children, I had to wonder how I missed out on something so natural and normal. Men and women come together and make babies. Isn't that the way it's supposed to go? Didn't I want that? Where did I lose my way? If I had stayed with my first husband, wouldn't we eventually have had children? Maybe I should have married someone else. But I was 22. I didn't know anything. I didn't know this could happen to me.

Annie was getting hot and restless. I was getting sad. "Come on," I said, and we went home to our big house and big yard with no children and no mothers.

Sorry. I'm feeling down today. You know how that goes. I hate holidays. They bring out the blues. Don't you find that's true? How was Fourth of July for you?

Starting Sunday afternoon, I'm going to be offline most of the time for a week or so. If I don't get to your comments or post something new, please be patient. I will seek out wi-fi as often as I can. Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How old is too old to have a baby?

How long can you wait to have a baby? People toss all kinds of numbers around. Is 35 too late? Is 40 the absolute latest? How about 45? A recent article in the Atlantic, "How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?" offers some facts which may be especially helpful for childless readers who are panicking because they're afraid they're too old. Maybe not. Author Jean Twenge had all three of her children after age 35.

The article mentions two important points that aren't always included in the discussion: Are all the reproductive organs working properly, and are you having sex regularly, especially during the most fertile times? Answer those questions before deciding you're infertile or too old. If you have not tried to conceive before, it's possible there are previously undiscovered problems that might need to be solved before the baby-making commences. And some women do start menopause early. (Not me. When I was about 50, my doctor told me I could still probably get pregnant if my husband hadn't had a vasectomy.) But if everything is working, Twenge says most couples who do their homework will get pregnant naturally within a year.

Of course that doesn't solve the situation where your partner doesn't want to have children with you, but it might help you to relax a little.  

What do you think about this? How does your age fit into your situation? Are you afraid you're running out of time? Are you having trouble making your partner understand this? Do you know if you have any physical problems that might make conception more difficult? And of course the ever-popular question: Do you stay in a relationship where having children is getting more unlikely by the day or leave and hope to find someone else before it's too late?

I look forward to your comments.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Must childless stepmothers and their stepchildren hate each other?

 Is it impossible for stepparents and stepchildren to get along? Reading the postings in Facebook’s Childless Stepmothers group, one would think so. I rarely read all the new posts because they contain so much anger I start to feel sick. They don’t use names; they use abbreviations. The husband is DH, the stepkids are SS and SD and the biological mothers are BMs (make of that what you will). They’re all talking bad about each other, lying to each other, and refusing to spend time with each other. They’re tangled up in disputes over money and custody. Holidays really bring out the teeth and claws. She gets the kids. They didn't send me a card. The kid stole my money. It’s ugly.

The fact that these stepmothers don’t have their own children seems to make it worse. In many cases, including mine and quite a few of yours, the husband uses the existing kids from the previous marriage(s) as the reason he doesn’t want to have any more children. He cites money, age, and fears about everybody getting along, and says he’s finished that phase of his life. So when the childless stepmother sees him spending time with his kids, and when they go through the milestones of life—graduations, weddings, babies—she feels the hurt, and she’s angry that she doesn’t get to have any of that with her own biological children.

Does it have to be a constant war? I do know cases where everybody gets along, where genuine love exists between the stepkids and the stepparents, where the “step” disappears. Surely it’s possible.

I don’t want to say too much about my own situation because my Childless by Marriage book caused more than enough trouble between me and Fred’s kids. But I will say that it was never the constant catfight I read about other families having. We all did our best to get along. Almost 30 years after we met, it’s not the warm and fuzzy situation we might like to have, but we don’t hate each other. We even kind of like each other. Plus, I consider my husband’s ex-wife a friend. We shared a church pew at his funeral. Weird? Maybe, but I was glad she was there with the kids.

Being a childless stepmother is a tough role. You get the responsibilities of caring for someone else’s kids, but you don’t get a chance to have your own. In addition, you get all the garbage that comes with every stepparenting situation—the shuttling between parents, the child support payments, the arguments over discipline, and the resentful child shouting, “You’re not my mom!” It’s not easy for anybody. But does it have to be a disaster?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your experiences with stepchildren.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Childless vs. childfree—the great divide

When the book arrived in the mail, I looked forward to reading it—until I realized it was aimed at parents. A Childless Woman’s Guide to Raising Children by Ageleke Zapis is not much of a book, to be honest, just a childfree woman’s rant about how kids should be kept quiet, well-behaved and out of situations designed for adults. Zapis offers the typical childfree attitude that parents are mindless breeders and that she is smarter than they are, so they should take her advice. I'm amazed that people, all parents, have posted positive reviews on Amazon, but then I'm not a parent.

The book had “childless” in the title, but clearly neither the author nor the publicity agent who wanted me to review the book understood what “Childless by Marriage” is all about. I had to write back to her to explain that most of the people reading this blog do not have children AND they feel bad about it.

We all wish sometimes we could tell parents what to do with their kids. I admit that when somebody’s toddler is screaming at church or banging his metal toy car against the back of the pew, I want to scream, “Get that kid out of here!” But I would never presume to know how to handle it any better.

The point I’m trying to get to is that the world of people without children has broken sharply into the childless—we wanted them, didn’t have them for reasons not of our choosing, and grieve the loss—and the childfree—didn’t want them, glad we don’t have them, no regrets. It really is quite a difference. We don’t seem to speak the same language.

I’m sure you all have met people who told you they didn’t have kids and were happy about it. They enjoy their freedom from the burdens of raising children. They don’t understand why you tear up when you see a baby or why you ache with jealousy when someone you know announces she’s pregnant.

We can find lots of blogs, groups and books for the childfree crowd and a few for the childless. Just last week, I told you about Jen Kirkman’s book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself. I enjoyed that book. Kirkman is a good writer, but she is not mourning the loss of her would-be children. She never wanted them.

For a list of other books about being childless/childfree, visit my Childless by Marriage webpage. You’ll see that the attitude of people writing on this topic has changed over the years from the sorrow of infertility to struggling to choose whether or not to have children to the happiness of being childfree.

These days, “childless” means different things to different people. There’s divide between childlessness by infertility or circumstance, and childlessness by choice. Have you experienced the disconnect between the “childless and the childfree? I’d love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lee Ann: If I had it to do over . . .

I have been following up on what happened to some of the women in my Childless by Marriage book. Today we hear from Lee Ann. I first met Lee Ann in a choir where we sang together here on the Oregon coast. She met me for a heartfelt interview way back in 1999. Highly educated, working as a social service administrator, she had been married twice and had no biological children. But when her second husband’s two daughters showed up mistreated and abandoned, she took them in as her own. The marriage ended, but she has continued to have a close relationship with her stepdaughters.

She is now 61, retired and living in Portland. Although I already knew what she would say to some of these questions, she patiently answered them all.

Did you wind up having children after all?

When people ask you now why you don’t have children, what do you tell them?
No one’s ever asked that, so I guess I’m lucky. Probably I would make some vague remark about it not being in the cards.

Do you regret the choices that led to you now having children?

If you could go back and change things, would you?

Are there stepchildren or other children in your life that fill the gap?
There are stepchildren with whom I remain close, even though I often wonder if biological children would be more attentive to me when I’m feeling neglected. But I know that biological parents often feel neglected by their kids, too . . .

Are you worried about being alone in old age? 
No, but I do worry about being a burden—and having enough money to live comfortably.

What are you proudest of doing in your life so far? Could you have done this if you had children?
Lots of little things I’m proud of doing, including “saving” my stepdaughters from their extremely neglectful mother. Most things I could have done regardless of having biological children. Could have done a whole lot more, probably, if I hadn’t had to save (and support) my stepdaughters.

What would you say to others who are dealing with partners or spouses who can’t/don’t want to have children?
See a therapist to work it out. If I’d started therapy before taking on my stepdaughters and their father, I would have had to deal with the issue of what it is in my personality that makes me sacrifice so much of my own needs for the sake of others. My final decision about staying or leaving would have had a much more solid basis had I made it with the clarity about myself that I gained in therapy much later in life.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Author writes about her happy life without kids

In the interest of keeping us all up to date on books being published about childlessness, I offer one of the latest entries into the childless field. For an extensive list of books about childlessness, visit my website at

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman, Simon & Schuster, 2013. Kirkman, a stand-up comedian and comedy writer who frequently appears on TV in "Chelsea Lately" and other shows, has put her comic skills to work on this memoir about why she never wanted kids and how she deals with a world that seems bent on convincing her to become a mom. Readers who are childless by choice will cheer her on as she confronts relatives, employers and friends who just don’t seem to understand. Readers who did not choose to be childless will still enjoy the stories and identify with the challenges she faces. While I didn’t laugh out loud too often, I did enjoy reading it. Even the most mom-centric readers will enjoy chapters with titles like “Misadventures in Babysitting,” “Jesus Never Changed Diapers,” “I Don’t have the Mom Jeans Gene,” and “Faking It for George Clooney.” 

On a more serious note,  I often get comments on this blog from people who are having a very hard time with their childless situation. One of the saddest came in yesterday. It's the Anonymous comment from June 13, 2013 by a 47-year-old woman whose life has been full of disappointment. I responded the best I could, but it would be great if others here could offer sympathy and advice. Read the comment here

Have a great weekend, dear friends. And if you're a childless man for whom Father's Day is no fun at all, I hope you can find a way to avoid the pain. Whatever happens, it will be over in a matter of hours. Hang in there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Followup: If I had it to do over again . . .

Years have passed since I interviewed the childless women who are quoted in my Childless by Marriage book. I have begun contacting them to find out what happened after we talked. Are they still with the same guy? Did they have children after all? How do they feel now about not having children? Most recently I caught up with “Aline,” who went by another name in the book but prefers to keep her identify private.

When we talked in 2004, Aline, a journalist, told me that her ex-boyfriend had insisted she abort the pregnancy she had at age 30. She had always planned to have children but had not found the right partner to do it with. At age 34, she said she would go ahead and have a child on her own if it didn’t happen within the next six months. As you'll see, that didn't happen.

If you were with a guy when we talked, are you still with him?
I’ve been single for the past year.

Did you wind up having children after all? Is there any chance you still might?
Unfortunately not. Considering my age, I think it’s unlikely. I suppose I can still get pregnant, but no man I know wants a baby with a 42-year-old, regardless of how attractive she may be.

When people ask you now why you don’t have children, what do you tell them?
I want to tell them it’s none of their business, but I just smile and change the subject.

Do you regret the choices that led to you not having children?
Yes. It’s eating me up. I feel like I’ve missed out in life. I feel inadequate and everyone makes me feel so.

If you could go back and change things, would you?
Absolutely. I would listen to my mom and be less picky about men. I would also have kept the baby I was expecting at age 30 and wouldn’t take into consideration the father’s (who incidentally is now married with two children) demands that I get an abortion.

Are there stepchildren or other children in your life that fill the gap?
I wish! I have a 13-year-old niece though who often asks why she doesn’t have a cousin from me.

11. Are you worried about being alone in old age?
All the time. It upsets me that no one will be there for me in my old age. It’s a source of anxiety.

What are you proudest of doing in your life so far? Could you have done this if you had children?
I had an exciting career as a journalist and film critic, traveling all over the world. And I live much of the year in Paris. It upsets me that I have no one to share these with. My friends juggle kids and career, so it wouldn’t have been impossible to raise kids at the same time. It just takes organization and discipline.

What would you say to others who are dealing with partners or spouses who can’t/don’t want to have children?
If you really want children and your partner doesn’t or can’t, then you need to re-evaluate your relationship. Do you love the person enough to make this compromise? You may wake up in ten years’ time full of regret. It’s a big and important issue and if you can’t change his/her mind, then it’s time to move on. Never compromise your happiness for a partner. I should know—I did and it kills me a bit each year.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The soft kiss of a little girl

Every Sunday at St. Martin’s Church in San Jose, a 4-year-old girl named Camille comes running to the row of seats near the back where my father sits and throws her arms around him. This stern 91-year-old man melts. “My girlfriend,” he calls her. Camille is a beautiful child with long wavy hair, dewy skin and big blue eyes. Dad often talks about her, telling me how smart and fearless she is, how she already knows how to read, how she’s starting school next year. Visiting from Oregon, I watch them, so jealous I could weep.

Camille has a 2-year-old brother and a 1-year-old sister (no Catholic jokes, please). They are all beautiful children and a handful for their parents. The mom and dad spend the Mass feeding them Cheerios, reading to them, shushing them, and taking them out when they get too squirmy. I don’t envy them that part of it.

During the sermon, the littlest girl stares up at my father, raises her tiny hand, and Dad matches his giant hairy brown hand against it. In this sweet moment, I realize how much my father actually likes little children and I could die for not having given him any, for not making him a grandfather. 

My father keeps the family’s Christmas card, with pictures of all the kids, on the piano with pictures of me and my brother and my brother’s kids.

Before Mass, Dad introduced me to the young parents, and the mother told Camille, “This is his little girl all grown up.” Yes, I am my father’s little girl, still going to church alone with him when I visit California and staying with the choir back in Oregon because otherwise I’d be going to Mass alone.

At the sign of peace, my father hugs me and then I see Camille reaching up for me. She kisses me on the cheek, the softest sweetest butterfly kiss. How I wish I could hold on to it forever. If only that perfect family were mine.

Know what I mean?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can I sleep with you, Mom?

You know how in movies and TV shows, we see little kids climb into bed with their parents when they can’t sleep. Maybe this happens in real life, too, but how would we know, right? This morning when I got up at 5:30 to use the restroom, I heard my dog Annie shaking her tags outside the door. Darn. She was already up, despite my trying to sneak in and out. Usually I would take her outside, feed her and start my day, but it was too early, even if it is daylight in Oregon this time of year. I wanted to go back to bed. Plus I felt guilty because I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow. Annie will have a dog- and house-sitter whom she adores, but it’s not the same. So I got into bed, patted the covers and Annie flew into place beside me.

Oh, she was a happy dog, licking my face and thumping her tail. She lay her head on my shoulder, and I thought, wow, this feels good. However, there’s a good reason I don’t usually let my dog share my bed. Okay, two good reasons. One is fleas, but I thought she was flea-free right now. The other is that my dear 80-pound dog-daughter cannot lie still when she’s with me. She flaps her tail and paws at me unless I keep rubbing her belly. Sleep? Forget about it. I turned on the radio, and we listened to oldies while I pet her until 6:00. Then we got up. I fed her and turned on my computer while she went back to sleep. Last time I looked, she was in deep snooze mode. Me, I’ll be falling asleep at my desk all day.

But that’s dog-motherhood for you. It felt amazing having someone to hold--like a child but furrier. I’m sleepy, and I have a flea bite on my back and some tiny bruises on my breast where Annie got me with her nails when I stopped petting her. Now I’m afraid she’ll want to join me every morning. Bad mommy.