The Emotional Waves of Mother’s Day

By Paulina Grace Hay

MP900399009Mother’s Day is looming and, once again, I find myself waiting for it to be over. It feels like I’m holding my breath underwater, hoping that no one sees me, the water creating a lovely muffle to drown out all the celebrations around me. When it’s over, I come up and gasp for air, crawling back to the shore.

Last year, even though I did my best to become a record setter in holding my breath, I had to come for air a lot. Some breaths were easy and others were labored. Before I went under, I filled up my oxygen tank with some good feelings. I started my day by reaching out to my fellow childless friends and my friends who have lost their mother or aren’t close with their mothers. It makes so happy when they seem genuinely surprised and touched that someone thought of them on Mother’s Day. Sure enough, I had a friend unload how she was having a triple whammy of a day – it was her birthday, the anniversary of her mother’s death and she’s childless. I didn’t know what to say, but offered an ear if she needed it and to share my plate of brownies with her.

Then I received a text from my brother wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day – hope it’s a great one!” I just wanted to say, “Are you serious? You know what I’ve been through. How can you say that to me?” Instead I wrote an email both my brothers, with an honest account of how I spend my day. I finished with how on days like this it would be nice to hear from them that they appreciate how I try to make their kids feel special and that I watch over our parents so they don’t have to. I was proud of myself for being vulnerable and stating what I needed.

Until they responded.

One wrote back quickly stating yet again that he cannot be expected to understand how difficult it is to have gone through a miscarriage. He always tells his girls, he said, how lucky they are to have me (even though I rarely get to see them.) I was hurt but not overly surprised by his response. Learning through Brené Brown why such comments are painful has been so helpful. His comments create distance not connection. That happened to you, not me – thank god. “I can’t understand” means “I really don’t want to try to understand.” Telling his girls to appreciate me is not telling me he appreciates me.

The other responded a bit later with a more seemingly thoughtful response. He was kind in saying that he does appreciate me every day. Then he went on to share a few stories to “one up” my sadness. Essentially the message was, “Stop whining. There are people that have it a lot worse than you.” He closed with how he would pray for me. It is devastating when someone belittles your pain, but Brené helped me reclaim it. My pain is my pain and it hurts like hell, even if he can’t see it. Also, his comment to pray for me felt like, “I can’t handle this but this makes me feel good about myself.”

My siblings aren’t bad people and if nothing else I hope that sharing my story helps them find a path to empathy, even if that’s a road we never travel together. I am proud of myself for standing in my truth regardless of the outcome. Going forward I likely won’t share another vulnerable moment like that with them. It’s time for me to move on.

I reached out an old male friend and asked if he had time to talk. I knew he wouldn’t be celebrating Mother’s Day because he was estranged from his mom. Over our decade of friendship, he’s occasionally given me a glimpse inside his fractured family. We talked for a long time about life and work. I never mentioned my pain. I was just content to remind myself that I had a good male connection in my life that cared for me just as I am. I later texted him and told him briefly what our conversation had meant to me, even if it seemed rather ordinary. He gave me a gift without even knowing it so I wanted him to know.

Later I received an e-mail from a family friend’s daughter who said that it had meant so much to her over the years that I always reached out to her on Mother’s Day since her mom had passed. She was now sitting down to do the same for another family friend. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air to know my small gestures did change her outlook on this day.

As I prepare for Mother’s Day this year, it helps to know I am not alone. That there are people who love me for who I am, and that I can make a difference to others helps me to take a deep breath and keep living.

It Got Me Thinking…About Old Girls and New Tricks

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I trained for and completed my first triathlon when I was 43. A good friend earned her black belt at 47. A gal I know picked up a paintbrush for the first time after retiring from a decades-long career and became a successful landscape artist in her 70s. Recently, another brave friend and her classmates showed a gathering of a few hundred guests how real women (with curves) dance traditional hula.*

I think our youth-obsessed society is under the misconception that courage is the domain of people under 30. They party, they experiment, they go on reality TV shows. But I disagree. I think real daring rears its beautiful head around the age of 39. I see it in so many of my friends, as they finally pursue long-held dreams or take new risks, whether it be diving out of a plane or going back to school and changing careers. I think it’s a combination of finally letting go of caring what other people think about us, along with renewed desire to try new things and a dash of fatalism—life is too short, let’s do this now!

I also believe we childfree women have a huge advantage. We don’t have to worry about what will happen to the kids if we end up in a cast and pretty much useless for 6 weeks. We don’t worry about embarrassing our teenagers. We have time on our hands and money not earmarked for someone else’s college education. We can’t use sleep deprivation and PTA commitments as excuses for not chasing our dreams.

If you’re looking for inspiration, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love or Julia Child’s My Life in France, both memoirs of childfree women who took big chances and dramatically reinvented their lives while their peers were shopping for strollers. Or watch Under the Tuscan Sun, Julie & Julia (based in part on Child’s book), or Last Holiday starring Queen Latifah for more stories about childfree women who dedicate their free time and passion to creating beautiful homes, beautiful foods, and beautiful lives.

Get creative, follow your bliss, explore what makes you curious, discover the blessings of a childfree life. This week, I have three words for you: Go For It!

*I want to note that these women took classes three times a week for two years to prepare for their debut. Their performance was beautiful, and I am in awe of these women and their devotion to the artistry of hula.

Whiny Wednesday: An Explanation

Whiny_WednesdayWhiny Wednesday has become such a favorite on the blog and I know that many of you look forward to the chance to have a good rant about what’s on your mind.

For those of you who are new to Life Without Baby or maybe not sure what this Whiny Wednesday thing is all about, I thought an brief explanation might be in order.

Whiny Wednesday came about because many of us felt we were going through our respective journeys alone and that our friends and family often didn’t understand how much we were hurting. Many readers said felt they felt they had to put on a brave face around other people and that the things they wanted to talk about sometimes felt like “whining.”

So, Whiny Wednesday was created as the place where, once a week, you can come and vent about whatever’s on your mind, especially the things you feel you can’t say in-person around others. Most weeks I post a topic for discussion, but the comments are always open for griping about whatever happens to be on your mind.

So, now you know what it’s all about, feel free the have a really good whine this week.

You Are Not Alone: Finding My Tribe and Discovering New Friends

By Lisa Manterfield

The worst thing about moving 400 miles to the northern part of my state was leaving all my friends behind. In my new city, I knew exactly three people, plus one good friend who lived an hour’s drive away.

One week, while my husband was traveling, I spent much of the time alone, and frankly I felt a bit sorry for myself.

Then, on the Monday “Laura” sent me a copy of her book. I read a couple of chapters and it made me laugh. On Tuesday I spoke on the phone with “Paulina”, who was snowed under in Indiana. I’ve never met her, but we’ve become phone friends over the last couple of years.  Later in the week, I chatted by email to Monica and Jody, and made plans to have coffee with Kathleen. I also finalized lunch plans with Pamela, something we’d been trying to accomplish for months, and I discovered that a long-time LWB reader lived in the next town over, so we met for drinks.

I share one thing in common with all these women, and that is that we are childless, but beyond that I’ve discovered we have so much more to talk about, and that these women have become my friends.

When I was dealing with infertility, I didn’t have this community. Although my friends were supportive and kind, none of them had been through anything like it. I looked for an online community, but couldn’t find one where I felt comfortable. I really did feel that I went through that whole chapter of my life almost alone.

I started Life Without Baby to talk about life after infertility and to be heard, but the pleasant surprise for me is that I’ve finally found a wonderful community of women who want to talk, listen, help, and support one another. And we’re not just talking about infertility and being childless; we’re talking about books, gardening, travel, pets, family, you name it.

I know that many of us feel, or have felt, isolated in our childlessness, and that the web has enabled us to find our tribe. And beyond that commonality are the possibilities for friendships, and I encourage you to find those opportunities.

On the private community pages, you’ll find a chat feature, and the forums are always buzzing. There are regional groups and groups for different interests. Behind this password protected wall you can safely send messages to other members or say hello on their walls.  There are plenty of ways to make connections and hopefully to make some new friends.

2015-blog-challenge-badgeThis week (April 19-25) is National Infertility Awareness Week. Of the many, many lessons I’ve learned on my own infertility journey, perhaps the most important one—the one that made it survivable—is also this year’s theme: You Are Not Alone.

It Got Me Thinking…About Facebook Sickness

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I’m convinced I’ve picked up a new form of morning sickness. The primary symptom of “Facebook Sickness” is feeling nauseated every time a “friend” posts yet another comment or photo updating her (or his wife’s) pregnancy. It’s an epidemic:

“Here’s a picture of me at week 5!” (Looking no different than you looked at week 4.5.)
“Here’s the latest ultrasound image!” (Still looks like a blob of nothing to me.)

“Today my pregnant wife is craving ice cream!” (I crave ice cream every day. Big whoop.)

“I’m kicking my mommy today. Love, Baby Girl Smith” (“I crapped on the hallway carpet today. Love, Scout the dog”)

I can’t comment with what I’m really thinking because that would be rude…and, well, I actually am happy for these people. But I am SO OVER the daily belly photos that I am tempted to post one of my own:

“Here’s a picture of my belly. Still fat.”

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. A bowl of chocolate chip ice cream would go a long way to adjusting her attitude today.

Whiny Wednesday: People Who Won’t Let You Quit

Whiny_WednesdayMost people in my life were supportive when I told them about my decision to end my quest for motherhood. But a couple didn’t want me to quit. They kept offering unsolicited advice and stories of other people’s miracles, when what I really needed from them was a kind and understanding word.

So this week’s whine topic is:

People who won’t let you quit

Happy whining!

Owning Who We Are

By Lisa Manterfield

MP900255381During a conversation with a group of people I recently met, one of the women was telling a story and tossed out that she was unable to have children.

Then she went right on with her story.

She didn’t pause for people to give her sympathetic looks, she didn’t elaborate on why she couldn’t have children, and she didn’t explain that she’d wanted to have them or tried to. She said it matter-of-factly, as if she’d been telling us she didn’t care for the taste of liver and onions.

I was in awe.

Later that day, we were talking about confidence and she told me that it has taken her a long time (she’s in her 50s) to own who she is. “You just can’t entertain that voice that tells you that you’re less than or not good enough,” she said.

How many of us hear that voice and how many us pay attention to what it tells us?

What if we stopped apologizing for who we are? I think we could be very powerful.

Do you have a voice that tells you you’re less than? Do you listen to it? How do you shut it up and own who you are?

It Got Me Thinking…About the Caretaking Question

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I usually include in my byline for this column that I am “mostly at peace with being childfree.” I now can tolerate the occasional baby shower, I genuinely celebrate news of friends’ pregnancies, and I relish my unscheduled weekends. I am growing accustomed to a childfree life, but one nagging issue still troubles me.

Last year, complications from arthritis, pain, and plain ol’ old age crept up on my 14-year-old chocolate lab, Scout. It fell to me to provide for her new needs, like carrying her home from walks when her legs could go no further, supplementing her diet with soft treats like ground turkey and steamed broccoli, and lugging her up and down our front stairs for pee breaks throughout the day.

I’m not complaining. I feel privileged to have been Scout’s human, and I wanted her final days to be as comfortable as possible and full of love. I cherish this precious time with her. But it’s got me thinking….

In caring for my sweet girl, I am confronting my greatest fear, the one big bad ugly fear I have about being childfree: Who will take care of me? When my mind or body gives in to the inevitable aging process, who will step up to manage my finances or coordinate medical care? Who will assist me up stairs or change the batteries in the smoke detector or make sure there’s food in the fridge? I worry there will be no one to keep me company in the lonely hours of my golden years, and to hold my hand, offering comfort and prayers, when it’s my time to pass from this life to the next. Will I end up paying someone to perform all these tasks perfunctorily?

Both my grandmothers lived into their 90s. When they needed help in their final years, there were children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren at their sides. But I am childfree. I have no caretaker in the wings. I am saddened by this thought and, frankly, I am scared.

Whiny Wednesday: Being Lonely

Whiny_WednesdaySome years ago, a young relative asked why I didn’t have children. I gave him an explanation that was honest, while also being appropriate for a young boy.

And then he asked me, “But won’t you be lonely?”

To this I responded that I had Mr. Fab and that I’d be fine. But actually, I think he may have hit a nerve, because even though I value the quiet time I have, sometimes it can feel a little lonely.

It’s Whiny Wednesday, what truths have hit a nerve with you?

No Longer Belonging

By Lisa Manterfield

lockLast year, a favorite local restaurant closed its doors, not because business was bad, but because the owner decided to reimagine the concept to make it more family friendly. My sweet little French bistro is no more.

What make this change particularly painful (and ironic) is that this gem, with its Parisian-style sidewalk patio, is where I sat when I wrote the first post for Life Without Baby.

Image

One Friday afternoon, more than five years ago now, I took my laptop, snagged a table in the sun, ordered myself a glass of champagne and a half-dozen oysters and began documenting my life without the children I’d dreamed of. Since then, Kathleen and I have celebrated completing drafts of our books there (see photo) and, one evening, I met with one of my earliest readers of the blog to share a glass of wine and stories of our journeys. So, this place holds a special place in my heart.

Aside from the sentimental loss, the restaurant was also one of the few quiet adult places to eat in that area. Along with one or two other holdouts, it’s surrounded by family pizza joints and family burger bars. And now it’s going to be another family-focused restaurant—an “eatery” instead of a “bistro.”

The owner told the local paper that the new place “will cater to a larger segment of the population” and that he plans to “make it more of a place where everyone feels they belong.”

I found it ironic that this longtime patron, who once felt so at home there that she chose it as the place to write about not have children, would no longer feel she belonged.

It’s been over a year now since the owner first made his announcement, and the restaurant is still standing empty. Perhaps the owner’s assumptions about “everyone” was wrong after all. Still, it gives me little comfort. I still long for the favorite spot where I used to belong.