How Not to Say the Wrong Thing

By Lisa Manterfield

shhhI absolutely love this article by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman about how not to say the wrong thing to someone in crisis. I wish it was mandatory reading for everyone, and I especially wish it came with a note explaining that it applies when talking to infertiles and the childless-not-by-choice.

The gist of their Ring Theory is that the person in crisis is at the center of the ring and those next closest to the person occupy subsequent rings. In the case of someone coming to terms with not having children, she would be at the center, her spouse or partner on the next ring, perhaps closest family and friends on the next, and more distant family, coworkers, and acquaintances beyond that.

The rule is that that if people have something mean or insensitive or opinionated to say, they say it to someone on a bigger ring. When speaking to someone on a smaller ring, they can only listen or—if they must say something—offer help, support, or comfort. No advice, no miracle stories, no blame or shame. No offering of their kids, no suggestions to adopt. “I’m sorry” is all that needs to be said. If they want to dump, dump outwards, not inwards.

I wish people would understand that someone who has just acknowledged she won’t ever have children is in crisis, and what she needs more than judgment and unhelpful help is for people to say to the right thing.

It Got Me Thinking…About American Families

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Girl ThinkingI got so excited when I saw this posted on Facebook: “33 Photos That Prove There Is No One Way To Be An American Family.” Bravo, Huffington Post! I jumped in and quickly scrolled through the photos. Wait…what the…where the heck is my family?!?

While I appreciate the idea and effort, and applaud the editors who put together this post of “what an American family looks like,” I was (yet again) so disappointed to discover what isn’t depicted.

Where are the families of two?

Where are the grandparents raising grandchildren?

Where are families made up of friends?

Fortunately, the first comment I read spoke exactly to this, and many other people chimed in, so I felt a little less excluded. But I still feel slighted.

I mean, come on. Out of 33 photos, they couldn’t put in one that showed a family without children?

 

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Our Stories is on temporary hiatus because…well…we don’t have any of your stories to tell! We would love to share your story here. It’s an amazing way to add your voice to the conversation and help someone who might be feeling alone. You can find out how to submit on the Our Stories page.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayThis week’s Whiny Wednesday topic comes from a reader and is ripe for a rant and perhaps some ideas.

She writes:

“I still haven’t figured out how to make friends with people my own age (40s) who have children. I often feel disposable, or okay to invite to things when it suits them. I’m a thoughtful, caring person who deserves better.”

What do you think about this? It’s Whiny Wednesday, so let it all out.

To Heal, You Have to Mourn First

By Lisa Manterfield

journalingI heard this beautiful interview with poet Edward Hirsch on the topic of grief, and I wanted to share it with you here.

You may be wondering why an interview with a poet about the death of his son has a place here, but listen carefully to what he says about loss, mourning, and the process of healing. So much of what he has to say is what I’ve also learned about healing from loss.

“There is no right way to grieve, and you have to let people grieve in the way that they can. One of the things that happens to everyone who is grief-stricken, who has lost someone, is there comes a time when everyone else just wants you to get over it, but of course you don’t get over it. You get stronger; you try and live on; you endure; you change; but you don’t get over it. You carry it with you.”

In his 78-page elegy to his son, he writes that mourning is like carrying a bag of cement up a mountain at night. There is no clear path to follow, but when you look around you, you see everyone carrying their own bags of cement.

As a poet, Hirsch used his writing, not as a way to escape grief, but as a way to express what he couldn’t otherwise say. One of the most striking points he makes is on the topic of healing and how our society talks about the need to heal. But, he says, in order to heal, you have to be able to grieve first.

Most of us have faced a lack of understanding about the loss we’ve experienced because we didn’t get to be mothers. We have no place to express that loss, and without facing it and acknowledging it, we don’t get to grieve and we don’t get to heal.

If you’re struggling with loss, have you found a way to express your grief? Even if you’re not a writer, could putting your feelings down in words help you move through your grief? I know it has helped me through mine.

An Interview with Henriette Mantel

No Kidding coverBy Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Henriette Mantel was first introduced to me as the editor of No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Motherhood. In this collection of essays, some very funny women—including Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman, Laurie Graff, and Nora Dunn—tackle the mostly serious topic of why they opted out of having children. Their stories are in turns hilarious and raw, inspiring and heartbreaking, and they all give voice to women who are traditionally shamed for their choices.

An Emmy Award–winning writer, a documentary film producer, an actor—Henriette’s résumé is impressive. Shortly after I spoke with her I learned she has portrayed one of the most beloved childfree characters of all time: Alice in The Brady Bunch movies. (Read Henriette’s lovely tribute to Ann B. Davis, the original Alice, here.)

For those of you who are new to Life Without Baby, we have a tradition of honoring “cheroes,” i.e., heroes who happen to be childfree. Henriette is one of my cheroes, for being her authentic self and for speaking up for childfree by choice women everywhere. Even if you are childfree not by choice, I think you will find inspiration and support in her perspective. Let me introduce you….

LWB: What was your inspiration for the book?

Henriette: Watching endless interviews with authors about how to deal with/live with/not kill/brag about your kids. Seriously, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to hear the other side of the story.

LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?

Henriette: I have pushed a lot of things in my life, but I never pushed having children. Partly because I could never imagine raising a child alone and partly because my choices in men have always been just this side of serial killers. But most of all, I have never had that gotta-have-a-baby visceral craving that ruled so many of my friends. I like kids. I LOVE kids. I love my nieces and my lone nephew more than life itself. My reason for not having kids wasn’t that I hate the little buggers, it was that I always felt fate would let me know if I was supposed to be a mom or not. Fate never brought me a man I would love to get pregnant with, fate never called me to raise a child alone, and fate never knocked me up, so here I am, childless.

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Henriette: To be honest, sometimes when I hold my new great-niece I wonder what my kid would have looked like. But that is ego. Of course I wonder what my kid would have looked like, but is that enough to have a kid? I don’t think so. When I think of all the work/heartache/rewards that a child can bring, I still don’t seem to crave having one.

LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?

Henriette: Not cleaning up bodily fluids? Not racing to the hospital when they have a fever of 104? Not worrying about them shooting up heroin? Oh, yea… wanting to talk endlessly and boringly about my kid when all the indulgent, tedious moms talk about their kids. That’s the hard part.

LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?

Henriette: My time is my own.

LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received about living a happy childfree life?

Henriette: No one ever really talked about it to me until I edited No Kidding. It’s like a non-subject. That’s what I love about the book. At least people now talk about it.

LWB: What’s the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?

Henriette: Follow your heart. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not having/wanting/craving kids. And there’s nothing wrong with having them either. Do what you do.

LWB: What advice do you wish you could have given your younger self?

Henriette: Try not to date psyco-men. Oh wait, that’s not about kids. I guess just go with the flow, baby.

LWB: What’s one thing you want other people (moms, younger women, men, grandmothers, strangers) to know about childfree women?

Henriette: There is nothing wrong with us. Stop feeling sorry for us. And for god’s sake, stop assuming we wanted them! Open your mind up a little and know there are choices and some of us are brave enough to make the choices that aren’t mainstream (boring) thinking.

The other day, my friends were dealing with their teen-age girl (nightmare) and after I gave some dumb advice, the father joked to me, “That’s coming from a person with no kids.” He knows I wrote the book, he knows my life, he just said it teasingly. Well, the other woman in the room, who didn’t know me, had such a look of pity when she looked at me, that I actually felt sorry for her to be so unevolved. Actually, I wanted to punch her in the nose. But as my mom used to say, “That wouldn’t be very ladylike, would it?”

LWB: At Life Without Baby, we talk a lot about “cheroes,” our heroines who happen to be childfree (Sally Ride, Oprah, the first female 4-star general). Who is your chero and what about her inspires you?

Henriette: I guess out of all the childless women it has to be Gloria Steinem because she said to Joan Rivers (who ooozed pity upon her childless soul), “If we all had kids, there wouldn’t be anyone here to tell you what it’s like not to have them.” Hearing that statement, at age 16, liberated me for the rest of my life.

 

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood is available on Amazon. Henriette Mantel is currently adapting it into an Off-Broadway show. Visit her website for updates.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayIf you’re new to the site, you might wondering what Whiny Wednesday is all about.

A few years ago, some readers commented that they couldn’t express how they felt around friends and colleagues, as they were always made to feel as if they were whining. So, we created Whiny Wednesday as a place to complain and grumble about whatever’s on your mind each week. It can be an issue surrounding living without children, or just a general grumble about life, work, family, the world.

I used to start each post with a gripe of my own, but lately I’ve found I’ve covered most of what bothers me, so I put out a call for Whiny Wednesday topics, and you, dear readers, came through! So, each week, I offer one of your suggested topics as a starting point, but as always, any topic is fair game.

So, let’s kick off with this week’s topic:

Parents who complain and complain then ask “Do you want my kids?”

Happy whining!

P.S. If you need something to cheer about instead, check this fun list of quotes from famous childfree women.

If you have a topic that hasn’t been covered yet, please drop me a line, send me ideas, or a list of ideas, and I’ll include them here. You can reach me at: lisa [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

 

On Being Sideswiped

broken glassThe other day I spoke to a friend who had just been sideswiped. Like me, she’s been off the “baby train” for several years and has truly come to terms with the fact that she won’t have children.

Then she had a birthday and found herself totally sideswiped, caught off-guard by her grief, and in the kitchen having a meltdown.

What happened?

She’s not sure and neither was I. Maybe her birthday signified moving one step closer to menopause and the final loss of the possibility of motherhood. Maybe spending time with a friend’s son reminded her of the missing part of her life. Maybe she was feeling alone in her family-oriented community.

The point is that sometimes, even when we’re sure we have it together, even when we’ve done the grief work, even when we’ve cried an ocean and think there’s nothing left to resolve, sometimes we just get sideswiped.

Has this happened to you? What unexpected trigger has caught you off-guard?

Our Stories: Michelle

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our StoriesI am so grateful to Michele for sharing her story. The events that led to her being childfree are devastating, yet at 39, she has such a grounded perspective about everything that has happened to her. When I asked “How do you respond when people ask if you have children?”, she replied, “Honestly, with my shoulders down and head high.”

I invite you to make yourself a nice cup of tea and settle in to discover how she has made peace with her “choices,” and I hope you will find some peace and encouragement for your journey too.

 

LWB: Please briefly describe your dream of motherhood.

Michele: I don’t know that I had a dream of motherhood per se. It was more that it was a built-in assumption that I would have a child some day, an assumption that I’ve always embraced.

 

LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?

Michele: Circumstance and choice. Six years ago I had two heart attacks in one week. The cause, a Spontaneous Coronary Arterial Dissection (SCAD), is rare and little understood. What is “known,” at least to the extent the medical community can say with some degree of empirical evidence, is that when they see this, it is often in women who are either postpartum or pregnant. The fact that I was neither made my situation that much more unusual. So without certainty, the best they could tell me was that I “shouldn’t” get pregnant, because the chance of another dissection happening was “astronomically high,” and likely “life-changing, life-ending.” Biologically, I can have children; the decision not to do so sadly had to be based on imperfect, incomplete information, but it was all I had to go on, so I did. In this sense, it was also a choice: the prospect of life versus the likelihood of death.

 

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Michele: Reconciled. When they told me I shouldn’t get pregnant, I had been only recently released from the ICU, after having had my first heart attack. I was 33 years old, a runner, a person who ate well, never did drugs or smoked, had low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and, barring a kidney stone a few years ago and salmonella when I was seven, all in all I was in good health. No one can imagine being told that you “shouldn’t” get pregnant, especially in that moment, especially when you had recently bought a house with your husband of 10 years with the intention of doing just this. It was a second level of shock. I’m not usually one for denial or distraction, but in truth the adjustment to life after a heart attack trumped the sudden reality of no pregnancy. It helped assuage the grief. It’s taken time to allow the situation to sink in, and to make peace with my decision to have a life without children, but as I have found, there are many ways to “birth” things in life. I’m a writer in my heart and vocation; as Jane Austen put it, my characters are my children.

 

LWB: What was the turning point for you?

Michele: When, a year to the month of the first anniversary of my heart attacks, I found out I was—despite every effort to the contrary—pregnant. I was carrying the child I had always anticipated, fathered by someone I loved, with a doomed destiny: the doctors told me the likelihood of a fetus surviving was less than mine. I had looked death in the eyes twice in the last year, and now I had to face it again, and this time, not mine alone. I sought out the opinions of high-risk OB/GYNs—the best of the best—and had them team up with my cardiologists—also the best of the best—to assess the risk. When the verdict came in nothing had changed, and, in fact, was hammered home that much more. “We will, of course, go along with whatever you choose, but our joint recommendation remains the same: do this and you’ll likely die.” So I chose life, the only choice I could.

 

LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Michele: On coping with not having children? None. The best I’ve gotten is a bumbling mess of clichés, which, after six years, I’ve learned to smile at because they speak to a certain truth about the fraught relationship between reality and subjective discomfort.

 

LWB: What have you learned about yourself?

Michele: That procreation sustains our collective existence, but doesn’t necessarily define a life well-lived. Just as I was forced to choose life in one less-than-pleasant way, I also now have the opportunity—and freedom—to choose it in another.

 

LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?

Michele: Don’t fight what you can’t change. Seize the forces of what you do have.

Michele is trained as a therapist, ethicist, and mediator, with a focus on transitions and meaning systems, and works as a practitioner and freelance writer. She has written several books on emotional health and healing, all available on Amazon. She also has a new novel coming soon! Visit her website, www.micheledemarco.com, for information and updates.

Every time I read new responses to the Our Stories questionnaire, I overflow with admiration and respect for the woman who shared them. What an extraordinary community of women we have at Life Without Baby! I am in awe of your honesty, bravery, and compassion. 

Did you notice I said “your”? That’s right, I include you in this group because I know your story matters too, and I hope you will accept my invitation to download the questions and share your perspective. It’s a quick and easy process, one that I believe will help you gain new insights into your own healing. Plus, I think there will be at least one woman out there who will read it and see herself in your story, who will take another step on her journey toward healing because she will finally know she is not alone.

Click here to learn more about the process and to download the Our Stories questionnaire.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

~Kathleen

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayEarlier this week, the news feeds were a-twitter with the premature announcement of the next royal baby. “Here we go again,” I thought, knowing that next week’s magazine racks will be full of photograph’s of Kate’s barely discernible baby bump.

I must say that I don’t feel any envy towards Kate and her public pregnancy and I have to admit that Prince George is pretty cute, but the constant barrage of celebrity babies does grow old.

How about you? Do you dread the media onslaught of another royal birth?

It’s Whiny Wednesday. What’s on your mind today?

Family Jealousy

Young Businesswoman Standing with Two Young Business ExecutivesAs I continue on my own journey of healing, I find it hard sometimes to write about the issues that used to cause me such discomfort. It’s amazing how the human brain can dull past pain. So I appreciate when readers contact me with ideas for topics they’d like to see discussed.

Recently, Jennifer sent me this question about jealousy within families:

“I see a lot of people post about the joy of having nieces and nephews. Well, my brother’s wife is pregnant and I’m feeling completely pushed of out the picture. It may be because I reacted with shock and sadness over their first pregnancy. But I did write a lengthy, heartfelt apology and when that resulted in a miscarriage, my husband and I were the first to make it to the hospital and we stayed 11 hours with them. Now, my sister-in-law is being really removed from me.

I really want to have the connection with my niece or nephew, but I’m afraid I won’t. And honestly, I’m jealous.

I wonder if others have similar experiences?”

A new baby in the family is a really difficult situation to navigate. There’s such a mixed bag of emotions involved. You’re trying to deal with your own grief, while also feeling alone because others don’t understand what you’re going through. Then a cause for celebration gets thrown in on top of that and, as much as you know you’re supposed to be happy for the new parents, all you can feel is resentment and jealousy that it’s not you. So, guilt and shame for being a bad sport get piled on top of that.

I also know that other people don’t know how to handle us when they have good news. I recall a friend being extremely uncomfortable about telling me she was pregnant. She dealt with it by sitting down, explaining that she knew this was difficult for me, and asking me how much or how little I wanted to know or be involved. I really appreciated her being open and it allowed me to be honest with her about how I felt. I’ve also had the experience of a friend saying, “Guess what?!” and then launching into every detail of how she found out and how it feels to be pregnant, while I sat and squirmed. Often people don’t know what to say or how best to handle us “volatile” folks, so they pull away and say nothing.

How about you? Have you experienced jealousy over new babies in the family? How have you dealt with it? Have you had a good experience with a friend or family member handling their news with aplomb?

 

If you have a topic or question you’d like to see discussed on the blog, please drop me a line. You can email me at lisa [at] lisamanterfield [dot] com or go through the Contact page.