The book is also available on Amazon.
A friend recently announced her engagement. At 44 she is getting married at last. I know this woman’s story intimately. She is someone who dreamed of motherhood, but never met the right man. She seriously considered having a baby alone using a sperm donor, but realized that it wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do in her situation. So she started making peace with her childlessness. Then she met a wonderful man—and realized that what she really wanted was a loving adult relationship and time with him, and that children were no longer her priority. And he didn’t want children anyway.
When she announced her engagement to me, she speculated as to how long it would be before some tactless bozo raised the subject of kids. To my absolute horror, I realized that during our entire conversation I was wondering if the engagement had changed their attitude about having children. The tactless bozo was very nearly me!!!
So, despite my thoroughly modern, feminist attitude to living child-free, deep inside of me lurks a traditionalist, who at some subconscious level still believes that first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. Yikes!
Our natural instinct is to reproduce and continue the survival of the species, so it’s no wonder that so many people can’t get their heads around someone’s decision to not reproduce. Maybe we need to cut those people some slack after all.
Or maybe not. Because, while man cannot fight his natural instinct, evolved man can learn when to voice his opinions and when to keep his (or her) big mouth shut.
My husband’s cousin recently commented that she would never become a grandmother because her only surviving son was gay. Her comment then prompted my husband to ask me if this website included gay men in its audience. The whole interchange inspired several threads of discussion regarding potential grandparents, modern families, and whether this site was a place that childless men would come, or if the female readers would be as open if men were lingering around. All this is material for future posts, but the thought that bubbled to the surface this time was: What about childless men? Which of the same issues do men and women face and are there other issues that are unique to men?
My husband has grown children from his previous marriage, so I’m not able to ask him about being childless, although he’s more than able to talk about the frustrations of infertility and of having a wife who is unable to have the children she wants. So, for those of you with male partners, what issues do you think men face? Do they feel the same pressure from family? Do their friends (and complete strangers) ask the same tactless questions? Do men feel the same sense of loss that we women sometimes feel. And is it easier for a man to make the decision to be childless?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
During my first three years of marriage, everywhere I went, people’s eyes migrated to my unchanging waistline. And it was everyone. Not just friends and family, but the eye doctor, the dental assistant, the bagger at the grocery store. And all of them felt entitled to ask.
The strangest inquiry had to have been from my yoga teacher: I drove across town once a week to take this class because I loved the teacher, a hip young German woman with a thick accent who’d play Tina Turner music during the sun salutations. She was the kind of funky that made you wish you had a tattoo. Something small and tasteful but a little bit bad. Because she hadn’t fully grasped the language yet, she was often unintentionally poetic when speaking to all of us. My favorite was, “you are lifting the Springtime of your heart to the flowers in your skull.”
I was resting in savasana pose, on my back, when she knelt down near my ear and whispered: “Your ovaries are ripe, yes?”
I opened my eyes and looked up at her. “My who?” Surely she meant something else. Eggs? Omelettes? Oranges? Or maybe this was some sort of German lesbian come-on line?
She whispered again: “Your ovaries, they are bright and ready for the babies.”
I pulled my legs to my chest, as if this could somehow block her x-ray vision into my pelvis, and stared at her, confused. Who was this woman and why was she tracking my ovulation better than I was? How could she tell? Was I bloated? And did she have to interrupt my peaceful resting pose, the one chance I had per week to fully relax and reflect?
I didn’t stick around after class to clarify, and my ovaries and I never went back.
On our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, a mere month after Stephen and I tied the knot, my Great-Uncle Marvin focused on the area just below my waistline and said, “Oh Carrie! I see a little paunch! Is somebody expecting?” His eyes became googly and he sounded like he was talking to a puppy. He didn’t go so far as to poke my paunch, which was fortunate since I would have broken his fingers.
“No, Marv,” I said. “I just finished eating Thanksgiving dinner, just like you.” I stopped short of asking him when he was due.
Why do people feel entitled to ask? Did they see the wedding band and connect marriage with procreation? It was obnoxious: For all he knew, I couldn’t have kids. For all I knew I couldn’t have kids, as I had not yet tried. But imagine if I had submitted to all kinds of treatments, only to come up empty-wombed. Imagine how painful this line of interrogation would be. Stephen thinks some people ask because it helps them validate their own choices. But he doesn’t truly understand how infuriating it is, and that’s no doubt because nobody badgers men about procreativity with the same frequency.
Was there a more personal question than the equivalent to: “So! You and the hubby having lots of unprotected sex lately?” How would they feel if I looked at their wrinkles and grey hair and said: “You look older every time I see you. You planning for your funeral yet?” or “You’re menopausal, right? How’s the dryness?” Sure, maybe they were just making conversation, but when I thought of ice-breakers, birth control didn’t spring to mind.
Perhaps childfree couples should all carry a printed card in their wallets, with this list of possible responses to the dreaded “when are you having babies?” question:
- “I had two this morning. They were delicious.”
- “Actually, I can’t have kids. I’d managed to go a few hours without thinking about it, but thanks for reminding me.”
- “Well, we had one. You must not have read about it, but long story short, don’t hire an English nanny.”
- “We’re not. We’ve decided to clone.”
Hopefully that will shut them up.
Carrie Friedman lives and writes in Los Angeles. She has been published in several publications, including Newsweek, and in a couple of anthologies, including Cassette From My Ex. Her website is www.carriefriedmania.com.
Win a copy of Carrie’s brilliant book, PREGNANT PAUSE. Just leave a comment on this post and we’ll draw a random winner next Saturday. The book is also available on Amazon.
In the historical novel I’m currently slogging through, the heroine’s stepmother (not wicked, as it turns out) is pregnant and about to go into her period of confinement. This basically means that she’ll disappear into a back room of the farmhouse, bite down on a stick, and quietly, without complaint, present her husband with an heir to the family farm, when he comes in from tending his sheep (although I suspect things might not go as planned in this particular book.)
Flash forward a century and a quarter (and switch continents) and this is how women prepare for motherhood: The San Francisco Birth and Baby Fair. (Don’t click on the link if you’re not ready to face this yet. I’ll explain what it’s all about.) At the fair, the expectant mother can find everything she could possibly need–doulas, photographers, clothing designers, exercise specialists– to be the kind of mother-to-be and mother that she’s always dreamed of being. Zen mom? Yoga, organics, and meditation info abounds. Metro mom? She’ll find au pairs, diaper services, and maternity spa products. Adventurous mom? Expandable hiking gear for her.
We are a society that loves the next big thing. We line up for the new Apple product, camp out for the latest and greatest Play Station, flock to the current hot thing. And right now, motherhood is cool. The celebs are doing it, the rich and powerful are doing it; and the Joneses are doing it. Motherhood is in vogue right now and marketers are selling us the dream. And why not? We live in a consumer-driven society. Use this product and the opposite sex will flock to you so you can join the Couples Club;follow this miracle diet plan and you’ll be accepted to the Skinny Club. And then there’s the exclusive Mommy Club– the best of the best, the ultimate. The club every woman dreams of joining, right?
But what if you can’t get in, or choose not to get in, or never got the chance to get in? Motherhood is no longer about producing future farmhands so that the family can survive; it’s about fitting in and belonging; it’s about being in with the in crowd.
When I first set out to become a mother, my idea of motherhood had been formed by my upbringing, my family, and friends. I knew that raising children was something I wanted to do. When I finally met my husband, I knew that he was the person I wanted to have a family with, and yes, my goal shifted slightly, because I also knew that I wanted to create a baby with him, as a symbol of our love. But looking back now, when things began to go wrong and it became apparent I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, it wasn’t the family ideal that I clung to, or even the need for a baby, it was that glossy magazine image of motherhood. I wanted to have the prenatal yoga, and the Baby Bjorn. I wanted to make my own organic baby food and be a perfect modern mother. I wanted a membership to the Mommy Club. Because where do you go if you’re not in the club? Who do you hang out with? What parties do you get to go to? Where do you belong?
Fortunately, I wised up fairly quickly to my own mania, but for a while I believed all the commercials. I never noticed before that none of the pregnant models had swollen ankles, or that all of the new mothers were serene and glowing, none of them were depressed and weepy or sleep-deprived. None of them looked like women who had to go back to work to support their new families.
As evidenced by the Birth and Baby Fair, motherhood is big business and if it doesn’t look pretty no-one’s going to buy. But for those of us who’ve struggled with infertility, or loss, or the decision to become a mother or not, this glorification only makes our situation feel worse, and makes us feel that motherhood is no longer just something we want to do, but something we have to do if we want to belong.
I’ve been fascinated to meet the members of this site and hear everyone’s stories. Numerous times I’ve talked to someone and thought, “Oh, they should really talk to the person I met last week.” And now they can!
I’ve just added the “Groups” feature to the main site. You’ll find it on the left side of the homepage and also as a tab at the top. “Groups” allows members to create groups based on their situations, issues, or interests. To get things going, I’ve started a couple of groups. Please feel free to create your own, based on the people you’re most interested in meeting.
We’re all here with the same common interest—living child-free—but our childlessness doesn’t define us. I’ve chatted with gardeners, cooks, crafters, and entrepreneurs. I’ve met women who have dealt with infertility, or the loss of a child or spouse. I’ve met women who have never wanted children and those who are still trying to get to grips with this whole childless thing. Some of us have families that just don’t get it; some of us feel as if we’re surrounded by new babies and pregnant women. We all have something we want to talk about.
My goal has always been to create a community where we can meet and talk to like-minded women. I hope you’ll find your tribe out there.
From attending funerals over the years, I’ve decided I want no formal service conducted by someone who barely knew me, no family airing their grievances over my casket, and no rambling eulogies by people who are supposed to say nice things about me but can’t. I do know that it’s important that some sort of commemoration take place, preferably a party with good food, flowing wine, and funny stories, not for my benefit, but for the sake of the people left behind. I’ve learned from experience how important a ceremonial closure is for the bereaved.
The problem is, I don’t know who my bereaved will be. With a husband 15 years my senior, my family 6,000 miles away, and no children of my own, who’s going to make sure my final wishes are carried out? Who’s going to even care when I pop my clogs, shuffle off this mortal coil, and head for the great writer’s conference in the sky?
I think that the answer will be: my friends.
Watching my own mother bound towards her 80th year is both inspirational and educational. I compare her to others her age (and younger, frankly) and try to find the factors that make her so youthful. Exercise is number one, along with good diet, positive attitude, and mental toughness. But right up there is friendship. My mother has so many circles of friends—her athletic friends, her artistic friends, her church friends, long-time neighbors, and even friends she’s maintained from her very first job more than 60 years ago. When she’s hit dark patches in the past, it’s been her friends who have pulled her through. When her husband, my father, passed away almost 25 years ago, we children were dealing with our own loss and her friends were the ones that kept her moving forward and moving us forward. And I know that my friends will be there for me too, in time’s of need, and when my time runs out.
Having children comes with absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be taken care of in your last days; ask those residents in senior care facilities who sit and watch everyone elses families roll in and out every Sunday. Ensuring care in your old age and having someone to carry out your last wishes is not a good reason to have children, but it’s another great reason to have friends.
My article about accepting infertility appeared in the Los Angeles Times Health section this morning. They also included a very nice mention for this site. You can read the article here.
I’m very pleased that this discussion is making it out into the mainstream media. It’s time has come.
A couple of week’s ago, Guest Blogger, Kathleen Guthrie prompted a discussion about how we find meaning in our lives when we don’t have children. A later conversation with her, followed by a comment posted by reader Jennifer, prompted today’s Top Ten.
I was amazed at the list I generated when I started looking for outstanding women who did not have children. Some of my favorites included Elizabeth I, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, and Dian Fossey, all of whom made a significant impact on the world. And it’s hard to imagine Amelia strapping a baby seat into the co-pilot seat of her twin-engine plane, or Dian wrestling with a toddler while attempting to move in close to a family of mountain gorillas. And yet I doubt that they considered their lives meaningless because they were not mothers. The world certainly didn’t.
So, after much editing, I’ve compiled my own Top Ten list of great women who did not have children. There are a lot of amazing women missing, and the order is up for debate, but I’ve tried to include women from a variety of arenas. Please feel free to add your own favorites.
10. Marilyn Monroe
9. Ginger Rogers
8. Joan of Arc
7. Coco Chanel
6. Frida Kahlo
3. Rosa Parks
2. Julia Child
1. Oprah Winfrey