Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Childless friends, here are some answers

Dear friends,
I’m in the middle of a family dilemma and can’t concentrate. My dad fell and broke his hip last week. He’s in a rehab place in California, I’m in Oregon, and communication is ragged. Like this morning, the rehab spokeswoman said on the phone that she can’t tell me anything because my father won’t give her permission--because he doesn’t want to bother me. I’m already bothered. So, while I try to talk to my 92-year-old father, I’m sharing some links to fabulous articles that address issues we’re all thinking about.  

1) This advice column by Lisa Scott addresses the question I get most often here: “I want to have a baby but my boyfriend is avoiding the topic. What should I do?” If you’re a man reading this, just change the genders and read on.

2) This piece, “Wishing for You, Wishing for Me,” by Heather Travis at the Huffington Post may bring you some tears, but read on and you’ll find some reasons to smile.   

Love to you all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beware of unreasonable baby expectations

* She’s 46, he’s 36, and he wants to have children, preferably several. But she’s 46, past the age when most women can get pregnant without heavy medical intervention, and she has almost finished raising the daughter she had with her first husband.

* He’s going through a divorce that nearly destroyed him emotionally and financially. His two half-grown kids are breaking his heart. And now his girlfriend is badgering him to get married and have children. She won’t stop talking about it when he barely has the energy to get through his day as it is.

* Before they got married, he said he didn’t want to have any children. She said kids were never a priority for her either. But then a couple years into their marriage, she saw all her friends having babies and started wanting one, too. When she mentioned her new desire to her husband, he told her he still had no desire to have children. Now she is certain she must become a mother or die of grief. It’s all his fault for denying her this essential part of life. But he told her all along that fatherhood was not on his bucket list.

Dear friends, I read stories like this almost every day in blog comments and in private emails readers send to me. Most of the writers are heartbroken and struggling to figure out what to do. Should they leave their partner in the hope of finding someone eager to make babies or stay and risk ending up alone and regretful in old age? I sympathize. I really do. When I married Fred, I was 33, and he was 48. He had three children from his first marriage and he’d had a vasectomy. We talked about having the vasectomy reversed. We talked about adoption. But he finally told me he just did not want any more kids. I wanted babies. I cried over it, I drank over it, I got mad over it, and I fantasized that somehow I’d get pregnant anyway. Of course I didn’t.

Like the readers described above, I had unreasonable expectations. I married an older man who had already done the baby thing. He had barely finished his divorce before our wedding day. His kids were in all kinds of trouble. His financial security had just been demolished. Finding and falling in love with each other was like a gift from God. To demand children on top of that was asking too much. If I really wanted kids, I should have found a man my own age who was aching to be a dad. I chose Fred.

Readers, I know how much it hurts not having the babies you always wanted. I still cry over it.  It kills me to see families with their children and grandchildren and realize I’m alone. Add active hormones and people having babies all around you, and it can be brutally hard walking around with an empty womb. It’s hard to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it. But sometimes you have to be realistic. If you really love someone, consider their side of the situation. Instead of browbeating them, love them and do your best to understand.

Say the serenity prayer. It helps: God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved

Like so many other people, I can’t stop thinking about Robin Williams, the beloved actor and comedian who committed suicide on Monday. Like so many other people, I felt a bond with him, loved him like family. We were about the same age, both performers, and both from the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond that, did we have anything in common? Maybe not. But now I do share something with his family: suicide. Many years ago, my great-grandfather killed himself with a shotgun. More recently, my uncle hung himself in his garage. Robin’s death by hanging brings it all back to me. Why couldn’t these men go on?

They all had wives and children who loved them. They had good homes and enough money. They had work and hobbies they loved. It would seem they had so many reasons to live. So, what happened? What demons overpowered them and made them take their own lives?

These men left children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces, not just to do the practical things like arranging funerals and sorting their possessions but to remember and share their memories forever. If they can’t go on, how can we, who may never have children or grandchildren?

We can. We must. I have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life. I have been in counseling for years. For most of that time, I resisted taking any kind of medication for it. No, I don’t need drugs, I said. After my uncle died, I changed my mind. Give me the drugs. I do not want to follow in his footsteps. I take a small dose of a mild drug, but it helps.  

You know what? It makes no difference whether or not I have children. Depression is an illness, and it can come to anybody. And you know what’s more important? My life is not just about the children I had or didn’t have. There’s so much more to life. I am a complete person all by myself, and I have been given many gifts that God wants me to use in this life. I hope to use them until I die a natural death and maybe beat my grandfather’s record of living to age 98.

Many people who comment at this blog worry about how they will feel later if they don’t have children. Will they regret it? Will they be overwhelmed by grief that never goes away? Will their lives not be worth living? I have to tell you the hardest part is when you’re still trying to figure out what to do. Have children or not? Stay with this partner or not? Once it’s a done deal, it gets so much easier. There are moments of regret and sadness. It’s a loss, just like when someone dies. You will always wonder “what if?” I'm not going to pretend that I don't wonder who will pick up the pieces when I die. But even if you never have kids, you will still have a life worth living, one full of gifts and possibilities. You will also have freedom to do things you might not have been able to do if you had children.

If you can’t imagine life without children, find a way to have them. Change partners, do IVF, adopt, volunteer. But if you are certain you have found your one true love, and that love will not give you children, accept that this is your life. Whatever happens, live the life you’re given, and for God’s sake, don’t give up. I know from personal experience that the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when the despair is so heavy all you want to do is disappear. But do reach out. Call a friend. Send an email. Tell someone how you feel. Grab a lifeline that will get you through today and into tomorrow when it will be easier. And if someone you love seems to be struggling, don't wait to be asked; reach out to them.

We will get through this together. RIP, Robin, Uncle Don and Grandpa Joe.

Have you had a connection with suicide? What qualities give your life value in spite of not having children? Please share in the comments.