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.

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.

It Got Me Thinking…About the Dark Side

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

“I’m pregnant!” my friend gleefully announces.

And I think, Well, f*ck me six ways to Sunday, but I instead I jump up and embrace her and say, “Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you!”

Yup, another one has gone over to the Dark Side. My playmate, my buddy, my date for tea and chick-flicks will soon switch discussion topics from the last great novel she read to the merits of cloth versus disposable diapers and the challenges of getting into the “right” preschool/private school/ballet studio. While I bravely continue to pursue political movements, investing options, and the hottest new tapas restaurant this side of the Bay, she’ll be focusing on PTA politics, college funds, and how to get her kid to eat green vegetables.

Before long, the excuses for missing lunch dates (sick baby, sick kid, soccer games) will grow tiresome. She’ll kindly include me in the first few get-togethers with her new friends from the mommies group. I’ll make polite conversation when I’m invited to baby showers and first birthday parties. But eventually I’ll get lost in the mist as she gets sucked into more and more “family” events and senses how much more she has in common with the other reproducers. “Whatever happened to your friend Kathy?” they might ask. “Oh, she never had kids.” “Oh,” they will say knowingly. Or so I imagine. This is worse than being the last kid picked for teams. This is being told you can’t even play the game, but if you want, you can watch from the bleachers.

And I’m pissed. But mostly I’m lonely. It’s really, really hard to make new friends when you’re over the age of 40, and it’s that much harder when, like me, you leave the city you’ve lived in for those first four decades and move some place where you know no one but your husband. You have to make a determined effort to get out, try new classes, start new groups, and hope to find a connection. It’s not unlike dating, and it can be really exciting, but mostly scary and discouraging. But you carry on, remembering the closeness you once shared with old friends who, over time, could read your thoughts and finish your sentences.

Within three years of moving to my new city, several of the women who I thought could become part of my new posse became first-time mothers. I didn’t know they were trying; we hadn’t known each other that long, so the topic never came up. A couple had been trying for years, and became pregnant shortly after meeting me. My friend Lisa found this hilarious and suggested I offer myself out as a fertility icon: Become friends with me, and you’ll be knocked up within 3 months—guaranteed!

After the fourth announcement, I broke down and told my husband how crushed I was, how broken-hearted, how devastating this was to my developing social life. He laughed at me, pointing out how ridiculous I sounded for getting so overly dramatic and self-pitying. And he’s right. Because, really, I am happy for my friends. And it won’t be as isolating as I imagine, it will just be different.

When I get the “good” news, when I sink into one of my funks, I fully realize that I am the one who has gone over to the Dark Side. But for a short while, I need to lose my perspective and my sense of humor, wallow in self-pity, and mourn the loss of my friend. Because underneath my happiness for her, I still hurt for myself.

Childless, Not by Choice: My Interview with Brian Lehrer

I had the pleasure of speaking with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer this morning about what it means to be childless-not-by-choice. I really appreciated the space he created for this conversation and I was touched by the courage of the callers who spoke openly and publicly about their own stories. It was a beautiful 20 minutes and it reminded me that none of us is alone on this journey.

You can hear the segment here:

Also, I understand that there were several more callers to the show that didn’t make it on air. If you’ve found your way here, please get in touch, either through the comments or the contact page. I also encourage you to visit the community pages, as that’s a safe, password-protected place to talk to other people and get support.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this conversation happen, and to you, for your support and encouragement.