In the 7th grade, I was assigned the task of creating a family tree. I loved this project, as I was able to trace my father’s family back to their arrival in the U.S. from Ireland in 1762 and learn the names of my grandfather’s 16 (that’s not a typo) siblings. It was so interesting to see all the connections.
Relatives on both sides of my family continue to dig into our past, and recently one forwarded an updated chart that includes my generation and our children. By “our” children, I mean the children of my siblings and cousins, because, as you know, I don’t have and won’t have children. This is where things get icky. As I flipped back through the pages, I was stopped cold with a notation that appeared here and there in previous generations: “No issue.”
That’s it. End of the line. You either added branches to the tree or you became insignificant. No mention of creative writing talents, beautiful singing voices, athletic prowess, or successful careers in politics, all attributes that appear in living relatives. There’s no link to my great-grandmother’s wildly popular donut recipe or my great-aunts’ and great-uncles’ great acts of faith. Nothing to indicate which of my ancestors was funny like my dad, compassionate like my aunt, or courageous like my nieces.
A few family elders are still around and are sharing their stories, so I get some answers, but as I think about the tree and my place in it, I’m saddened. My siblings are both listed along with their spouses, and their children appear in a fresh new column. My space for now is blank. “No issue”? I believe I am making worthy contributions to both my family and the world at large, and I take issue with the idea that I can and will be reduced to that label. I refuse to accept that a very full life can be measured solely by the producing of heirs.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Her memoir about her journey to childfreeness is in the works.