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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How did this childless story turn out?

I promised some followups with the women I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book. I think lots of people who are still deciding whether or not to have children wonder how they’ll feel when they’re older. So I asked. The first response came in from Diane. She didn’t actually end up in the book. I had so many great comments and only so much space, plus Diane was childless by choice rather than by marriage, but it’s good to find someone a little older than me who can tell us how her story turned out.

Diane, 63, lives in California and works in marketing and communications.

If you were with a guy when we talked, are you still with him?
“My husband decided in May 2008 that while he still loved me, he no longer wanted to be married. My belief is that this was a type of mid-life crisis, as he decided during the week we spent in Baltimore for his stepfather’s funeral. It was and still is very amicable. We are still legally married, so that I have the benefit of his job’s platinum-plated health care plan, until next year when I can switch to Medicare. We still file our taxes together, too.

Did you wind up having children after all? Is there any chance you still might?
No. Too old both [to give birth] naturally and to adopt. I prefer to adopt animals.

When people ask you now why you don’t have children, what do you tell them?
There are 7 billion people on the planet now and I think that’s about 3 billion too many. 7 billion people and maybe 1,000 wild tigers. So which is more precious, more rare, more worthy of our protection? We’ve made a trash pit of the planet and it will only continue to get worse. I chose not to contribute to overpopulation. Too many people in the world have children with absolutely no thought for how they will support them and no concern for the larger issue of global overpopulation.”

Do you regret the choices that led to you not having children?
Not at all!

Are you worried about being alone in old age?
I am sometimes, but my plan is to surround myself with friends in my age group, as well as younger and older.”

What would you say to others who are dealing with partners or spouses who can’t/don’t want to have children?
Consider that having your own children is an insult to the planet given overpopulation. It’s insanely selfish! Consider the cost. What else could you do with your life and for the world with the money it costs to raise even one child? Worst case, consider adoption as a compromise—better than adding to the 7 billion! But do so with a clear sense of how your life, your wishes and your goals will be altered, even compromised for the rest of your life.

I expect to hear some rebuttal to Diane’s comments. Many of us are sad about not having children, but maybe it will turn out all right. If I interviewed you for the book, and I have not contacted you, please comment or send an email so we can find out how you’re doing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Without children, we are free to help others in need

Once again the news is full of smashed buildings, dead children and adults, workers searching through rubble, and families left homeless. This time it's a tornado in Oklahoma. I can’t believe this keeps happening. Must we have a disaster every month? It’s not just here in the United States. They’re happening all over the world. Some, like the Boston bombings, are man-made. Others, like the tornado and Hurricane Sandy, are deemed by the insurance companies as acts of God. One religious Facebook friend suggested these are signs that the end of the world is coming. Maybe, maybe not.

If you believe in praying, please offer prayers for those suffering from the tornado and other disasters. Come to think of it, that’s what nuns and priests do. These Catholic women and men who give up marriage and children to devote their lives to God use their parenting energy to pray and to offer practical help wherever it’s needed. We don’t have to be nuns or priests to do the same. 

And here’s where I make this relate to being childless. In situations where children are dying, we can be selfishly grateful that none of them are ours, that we will never know the heartbreak of losing a child to whom we gave birth. Beyond that, because we don’t have children of our own to care for, we are free to help others who do. We can be that extra set of hands so needed by parents overwhelmed by big disasters or the little challenges of daily life.We can pray, we can babysit, we can send money to Red Cross, we can bandage wounds or help dig through the rubble.

It's easy to feel sorry for ourselves because we don't have children. We can waste our days blaming our partners or God for how things turned out. Or we can appreciate the children of the world as mothers and fathers at large, and when we see a need, we can step forward and ask, “Can I help?”

Do you agree?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Growing Old without Children"

Last night I was part of a panel discussion at Huffington Post Live about facing old age without children. The other panelists were Sharon Kovacs Grue, an estate planner from New York, Joanne Lema, founder of AfterFiftyLiving.com from Massachusetts, and Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara, a childfree writer from California.

We each talked from home via "Google hangout," which was a new and interesting experience. I'm going to have to work on getting a better angle for my webcam so my eyes don't look like I've got them closed, but it was amazing to sit at my desk and talk to people all over the country. On the phone afterward, I had trouble explaining this to my father who kept asking things like whether a film crew came to my house. Uh, no. It was just me and the dog. Amazing. 

It was an interesting discussion in which we concluded that life is a gamble and even if a person has children, she can't count on them being around to help in old age. Maybe she shouldn't even expect them to. Lema said she taught her children to be independent and take care of themselves, and she tries to do the same. We all agreed that, childless or not, it's important to prepare for future challenges by setting up insurance, wills, advance directives and power of attorney, as well as maintaining connections with friends or family who will jump in when needed and know what to do. We were mostly talking about people over 50, but nobody knows what's going to happen in life, so it's good to be prepared at any age.

There was so much more to say than we had time for. I wanted to get into a discussion about the emotional aspects of aging without offspring, but mostly we talked about medical emergencies, nursing homes, finances and that kind of stuff. Some of the comments suggested we were all childless by choice. Nope.

You can watch the discussion at http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/retirement-without-children I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When You Can’t Bear the Childless Grief Alone

This is a touchy subject, one that may make you reach for the mouse to close this blog, but please don’t do it yet. Stay with me for a few paragraphs.

At least once a week, I get a comment to this blog that leads me to cautiously, timidly suggest that maybe the writer might benefit from seeking counseling. I am not implying that they are crazy, but I am saying it might help to talk to a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or family counselor. People are very sensitive about this, so I hesitate to say it, but sometimes I feel I have to. These commenters say things like “I see no reason for living” or “I just can’t go on” or “I can’t remember the last time I felt happy.” These are red flags that a person may be suffering from depression.

There’s no shame in struggling to deal with grief or confusion over facing the possibility--or the certainty--of being childless. It hurts. It’s a loss, just as much as if someone had died. If you didn’t feel sad, that would be unusual. If it’s weighing you down to the point where you can’t get up in the morning day after day, not just once in a while, maybe you could benefit from finding an impartial professional to talk to.

I’ve been in counseling off and on over the years. The first time, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and found myself too depressed to function. I had given my heart and soul to this man, and he trampled all over it. Having no money, I called the county mental health department and got an appointment with a counselor. That first session, this kind woman made me feel so much better simply by listening to what I’d been through and letting me know it was not my fault. She took the burden off my shoulders. Many years later, a wise counselor helped me work through my husband’s illness and death. Believe me when I say it’s okay to get help.

Many readers here are struggling to figure out what to do. They are often in a situation where their partners are refusing to have children or there’s a medical problem, and they don’t know whether to leave that person or stay and accept that they’ll never have kids. This is a horrible choice in which no one will come out happy. You could talk to your parents, your siblings, your friends, or your co-workers, but they’re all biased. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who can see all sides of the problem, who will let you say anything you want in complete confidentially, and help you work through your decisions.

There are various kinds of counselors. Psychiatrists are doctors who are licensed to dispense medication. Psychologists are PhDs trained in mental health and counseling. Licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists have master's degrees and clinical training in counseling. I see a psychiatric nurse practitioner who not only can prescribe meds but also does hypnosis, biofeedback, art therapy and many other techniques. She also gives good hugs. Most insurances cover psychiatric care to some extent. I have never paid more than a minimal co-pay. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral. There are also government agencies and groups such as Catholic Charities that can help if money is a problem. It’s a hard phone call to make, but you can do it.

This is a huge subject for which I have barely touched the surface. Here are links to more information. “Finding a Therapist Who Can Help You Heal”  provides solid information about what therapy is and the types available. “Symptoms of Depression” from WebMD will help you understand the difference between ordinary sadness and depression.

What do you think about all this? I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mother's Day is Coming; Duck and Cover

It’s almost Mother’s Day. For everything I’m seeing all around me, it already is Mother’s Day and it lasts for several weeks. I don’t know many women who actually enjoy Mother’s Day. Most of us either don’t have kids, do have kids but don’t get along with them, don’t have a living mother to honor or don’t get along with their mothers and grandmothers. For everybody, the day seems to be fraught with tension. Have to get a gift. Have to send flowers. Have to take Mom out to brunch. But what are the siblings doing? Poor Mom can get pulled around among the kids till she feels like a Stretch Armstrong doll.

But we who do not have children can choose to ignore this day. It’s like National Secretaries Day or Canada Day. If we’re not secretaries and not Canadian or close to people who are, it has nothing to do with us.

Mother’s Day is hard. It reminds us of everything we don’t have. The main problem is the onslaught of advertising that insists we all have these happy families full of children, parents and grandparents who can’t wait to celebrate “Mom” with expensive gifts and tear-jerking cards. It builds up an expectation that is rarely fulfilled. I’ll bet if you asked mothers whether Mother’s Day was everything they’d hoped for, they’d say no. Well, maybe that one time back in 1983 . . .

It’s an advertising-based mass hysteria, sort of like the craziness that gets built up around the American Idol contestants. Last week when they went “back home,” they were honored with parades, speeches, and huge gatherings of fans bearing signs and gifts. The crowds were going nuts. Even little kids were screaming the Idols’ names. Now surely these people don’t all care that much about Angie or Kree or Candice. But they’ve been told over and over that it's a REALLY BIG DEAL, so now they’re out on the streets screaming and bursting into tears because they met an American Idol. Those are manufactured emotions, my friends, and I think a lot of what we’re made to feel on Mother’s Day—and Father’s Day to a lesser extent—is also manufactured emotion.

Yes, we love our mothers and many of us who don’t have kids yearn to be mothers, but the bigger the hype the more it hurts. It’s hard to avoid; it’s everywhere. I went to our local department store a few days ago, and the staff kept making announcements about Mother’s Day sales and things we could buy for “Mom.” I passed displays of flowers, dresses and gift baskets, and my receipt came with a coupon for the jewelry department. The local paper is loaded with restaurant ads for Mother’s Day brunch and information about Mother’s Day activities.

Some of you will be attending gatherings of family or friends where you’ll be face to face with other people's babies and with relatives who want to know why you’re not reproducing. You have my sympathy. I’ll be doing music all day, first at church—yes with its special prayer for mothers—and then at a song circle where with luck nobody will even mention Mother’s Day.

It’s a tough day. It took me years to stop being a ball of anger all day long, but I’m learning to let it go. You can, too, with time and practice. Meanwhile, if you can avoid the holiday craziness by going out in nature, watching a movie marathon or staying in bed all day, do it. If not, do your best to honor the mothers and not take it personally.

If you want to read more about Mother’s Day by people who understand how you feel, here are links to Marcy Cole’s Huffington Post piece, "Mother's Day for Childless Women," and author Anne Lamott’s classic on “Why I Hate Mother’s Day.”

Hang in there. On Monday, Mother’s Day will be over for another year.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Childless by Marriage Blog Marks a Milestone and Looks Ahead

Dear friends,

Last week, we passed 100,000 page views. As of this moment, we’re up to 100,521. That seems like a milestone to celebrate. Yes, other blogs get millions of visitors, but ours is a special group, and I am grateful for every one of you. On an average day, we get about 250 visitors. Readers come from all over the English-speaking world, as well as from countries where most people don’t speak English. They find us via Google and other search engines, as well as Facebook, other sites about childlessness, and direct referral from friends.

The comments tell stories of women and men who are hurting and searching for answers. They wanted to have children, but they are in situations where it may not happen. In many cases, their spouses have decided they don’t want to have children, and they don’t know what to do. Sometimes the spouse is reluctant and then a physical problem ends the discussion in sorrow.

I have gotten the most comments in response to posts about grief. Just this morning, I approved two that both tell the same heartbreaking story from different perspectives. You can see them here. (Scroll to the end of the comments.) These anonymous women are 42 and 64 years old, but both are in so much pain they don’t know how they can stand it. I wish I had the magic words to make the pain go away. Perhaps some of you can offer some hope to these women.

I’ve been doing this blog for six years. It’s hard to believe. And no, I’m not quitting. Part of its purpose has always been to promote my Childless by Marriage book. I would like everyone to buy it. But the blog has grown into a special place of its own that goes far beyond the 300 pages of my book.

To post at least once a week for so long requires a little research, considerable stretching of the creative muscles, and occasional inspiration from above. Sometimes when I think I have nothing to say, God drops a story into my hands. Sometimes you, my readers, give me ideas with your comments and e-mails. It seems there is always more to say on this subject.

I’m working on a project to reconnect with the women I interviewed for my book. In some cases, more than a decade has passed, and I think it would be helpful to all of us to find out how their stories turned out. Did they ever have children? Are they still with the man they were with at the time? Have they found peace with their childless situation? Do they have regrets? The first responses have started coming in, and I look forward to sharing them with you here. (If anyone reading this was interviewed for the book and has not received an email from me, I may not have your current address. Please contact me at sufalick@gmail.com.)

Right now census figures show that one-fifth of American women have reached menopause without having children. That number is increasing. By the time today’s women of childbearing age are 45, I suspect it will be more like a fourth or even a third who never become mothers. But right now, I know lots of us feel left out, misunderstood and alone. We are not alone. Thank you all for being here, and please keep coming back.