Tree Planting for Non-Motherhood

By Paula Coston

Tree planting 22 March 14 025In Jewish culture, it’s an ancient tradition to plant a tree on the birth of a child: a cedar for a boy, a cypress for a girl. The child would then care for the tree; when she or he married, they would stand under a canopy made of its branches. There’s a Jewish text: ‘A person’s life is sustained by trees. Just as others planted for you, plant for the sake of your children.’ (Midrash Tanchuma Kedoshim 8)

I live in the UK, and in our country of Wales, over the last two years, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted as part of a project to grow a sapling for every new baby born or adopted in the region.
But childless women like us have no upcoming generations. So my thoughts have returned recently to an inspirational woman in her late eighties. I already shared in a personal post here the wonderful gesture made by  Salumarada Thimmakka, who lives in rural India. Teased and despised in her village community as a young wife without children, despite her gruelling job in a quarry she began to plant saplings, treating them lovingly every day as her own ‘offspring’. Gradually they grew into a stately, shady avenue of 284 banyan trees, now worth millions of dollars.Meanwhile, the U.S. has a time-honoured tradition of mass tree planting, with a dedicated day, Arbor Day, for which the commonest date amongst the various states is the last Friday in April. People, young and old, take part. The day’s founder, J. Sterling Morton, declared 140 years ago, “Each generation takes the earth as trustees”, again linking this activity to the upcoming generations.

Why not, like her, plant trees for the children we never had?

Tree planting 22 March 14 022

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the council in my pretty little Cotswold town in England was funding a new tree planting scheme along the banks of our renovated canal and fringing the ridges of my local park, overlooking a lake and weir: silver birches, rowans, oaks, maples. I saw a chance, and invited a childless friend and neighbour along.

On Saturday March 22, we found ourselves under a spring sun flitting behind black clouds and threatening rainbows over the hills and valleys while we helped to dig holes, scoop moist earth round young roots, funnel weather guards over the saplings’ baby heads and drive in stakes to support them. I found myself asking the name of each plant, in some weird sense bonding with it, and even – unashamedly – talking to it as if it was a child. Kneeling beside the bed of each root ball, teasing out those little water-seeking veins, taking a moment to think about what I’d lost but what I was now giving to something living, was surprisingly moving and reviving.

Tree planting 22 March 14 037

My neighbour finds it hard to talk about her loss of children, but somehow, too busy digging to feel self-conscious, backs turned on each other, we began telling our personal stories of childlessness to each other.

On an impulse, I took out some postcards I was carrying in my backpack. For each young, vital thing I planted, I wrote a message to a child I never had and posted it into the tree’s new resting place among the soil. It didn’t cure my pain, but it felt like part of an answer.

I discovered something simple: that gardening, nurturing something other than a child, is great therapy for childlessness.

Paula Coston writes on childlessness, the older woman and singledom at her blog, http://boywoman.wordpress.com. Her novel, On the Far Side, There’s a Boy, comes out in June. It’s about an Englishwoman from the 1980s to now and her gradual discovery, through a link with a little boy in Sri Lanka, that she will never have a partner or children.

Our Stories: Ann

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our Stories“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother,” Ann writes. “I could picture the children more clearly than I could picture any partner.” Now 49 and divorced, Ann still wonders if there is a way for her to become a mother. Here’s what she has to say.

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

Ann: I am childfree because my ex-husband and I had three traumatic pregnancy losses—a full-term stillbirth, a termination due to chromosomal abnormalities, and a miscarriage. We were diagnosed with infertility and found ourselves in a vulnerable enough state in our marriage that it didn’t seem right to adopt.

 

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Ann: I am amicably divorced. I am mostly at peace with my childless state, though I still have times when I think of adopting.

 

LWB: What was the turning point for you?

Ann: The turning point for me—and it took a long, tangled while—was realizing that my marriage and my desire to be a parent were separate. I needed to address the state of my (unhappy) marriage before I could address the idea of becoming a parent. I have never wanted to go into parenthood as a single parent, and this still mostly holds true now that I’m divorced.

 

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

Ann: The hardest part about not having children is that I feel as if my natural state is to be a mother, and I’m not (except to my dog and very occasionally to my nieces, nephews, and friends’ kids). This is confusing and makes me feel as if I’m denying who I really am. Then I get all worked up about why I don’t have children. My decision to not be a parent has more logical reasoning behind it than maybe it should.

 

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

Ann: I used to view people who were childless as kind of limited and selfish. I want the world to understand that being childfree for many of us is not by choice.  Even though we live in a world where we have a lot of choices, there are many very legitimate reasons why we remain childless. This does not mean we do not care about children as much as the next person. This does not mean we don’t or can’t understand love. I hate it when people say they didn’t understand what love was until they had children, as if those of us who don’t have children don’t know what love is. I hate hearing about groups such as Moms For or Against…whatever the cause is. Why can’t they be People For or Against…. I hate it when parenting queries are addressed only to parents, as if all the time I have spent around kids doesn’t count. I also hate the doubting part of me that worries that I am limited and selfish by not doing all I can to have kids.

 

LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”

Ann: Mostly I answer “No.”  Sometimes, depending on the context and the company, I answer “None living.”

 

LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you? (or What advice would you like to give to your younger self?)

Ann: The best advice I’d offer someone like me now is not to be too hard on yourself and to find ways to make yourself happy. It is hard to live a different life than you envisioned yourself living. Give yourself time to sort it out. There are many ways to positively influence kids without being their parent. The world needs us all—parents and non-parents.

The advice I would give my younger self is different. I would encourage my younger self to get started on the parenthood quest sooner. My older sister had a life plan: She wanted her first child by 30. I had no such plan. Perhaps if I had, my life would be different now.

Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.

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

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayAs I hijacked last week’s Whiny Wednesday with a birthday, I’m announcing Double Whines this week. Hope it wasn’t too painful saving them up.

Whine away!

Why You Need An Emotional Emergency Response Plan

By Paulina Grace Hay

MP9003210718 years ago, a few weeks before my 30th birthday, I had my second miscarriage and a D&C.  Physically, I recovered very quickly.  Emotionally, I was in a tailspin that left me and my marriage in a pile of rubble.  It looked like there would be no survivors.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to survive.

There’s no handbook for moments like this and no one size fits all plan.  It reminds me of the magic trick where they pull the tablecloth out from all the place settings.  Everything rattles for a moment but quickly settles and looks untouched.  To everyone else, it looks the same.  To you, the foundation is gone in the blink of an eye.  You can barely process what has happened to you, let alone explain what’s happened to your spouse or partner, your best friend and loved ones.

I read books like Welcome to Your Crisis.  I went to therapy once and thought that was all I needed.  I shut a lot of people out.  That move cost me my best friend and almost my husband.  I was back at therapy months later even though I thought I should be stronger than to need help.  (I still struggle with that one.)  I attended a Resolve group to meet other women like me.  I tried a few infertility treatments and came to the gut wrenching but weight lifting decision to stop trying to have a child and re-embrace my life.  I was 32.

In a couple of weeks, it will be my 38th birthday.  I’m not one to dwell on numbers and usually being the youngest by far, I welcome a chance to be considered one of the “big kids”.  Yet I’d been in a deep funk recently.  I couldn’t shake it, I felt my anxiety escalating beyond my control.  I decided to make an appointment with my therapist.  I almost cancelled it.

He’s the one that said things to me like, “You have a birthday coming up.” and

“I feel like you’re not letting yourself feel some pain.”  I was practically rolling my eyes and thinking, “Are you kidding me? Am I still here after all this time?”  However, I trust this man so we went on.  (The other interesting note is this is not the therapist who helped me through my infertility crisis. I’ve learned therapists help me with perspective and can give me emotional strength when I don’t have it.  Bless the good therapists of this world.)  We’ve never discussed my miscarriage or my marriage, as those aren’t the areas I felt I needed help with right now.  I felt better when I left.  I proceeded to start a fight with my husband when I got home.

The next day I was working from home alone and my husband was out of the home office for the day.  I was doing the everyday task of cleaning the kitchen. My mind was wandering.  I remembered my nephew’s birthday was coming up and I’d had the date wrong in my mind.  It was later in the month than I realized.  Then the trigger came like a bolt of emotional lightning.  I’d had my D&C the day before his 2nd birthday and we drove to their house the next morning.  I didn’t mention it to my family.  A few weeks later everyone came to my house for my 30th birthday.  We took a full family portrait.  My one sister-in-law was already pregnant.  My other sister-in-law was newly pregnant.  I was in denial.

I started to cry.  I hate to cry.  I started to fight the tears.  Without realizing it, I started to engage my Emotional Emergency Plan.

 

Let Yourself Feel The Pain

I remembered listening to Dr. Brene Brown talk about how she processes shame.  One of the things she has to do is cry, even though she hates it, too.  I let myself sink in the corner of the kitchen and sob.  I wailed at my own pain.

 

Shame Can’t Survive Being Spoken

My first inclination was to process all of this alone, as I’d done many times before hiding in a closet or a bathroom.  It would be perfect, no one had to know.  I remembered Brene saying that shame can’t survive being spoken.  I scrolled my emotional Rolodex.  It’s uncanny how often you pick the worst person ever for support and end up feeling worse.  For me, that would be my mom.  I almost called her and thought better.  (Thank you Martha Beck for that insight. )

 

Know What You Need and Ask For It, Even If You Don’t Get It

I wanted a friend.  Not any friend.  An old friend, someone who is like a sister.  One who knew me before miscarriages and failures.  One who told me when she couldn’t take it anymore hearing awful infertility stories because it made her feel guilty.  One who had her own issues, even if she had 2 beautiful children of her own.  I sent her a detailed text (thank you again Brene for reminding me to be clear on what’s going on so they understand I need their full attention) and finished it with, “I’m having a really hard time. Can you please call me?”  I let her hear me cry and sob.  I know it broke her heart.  She wanted to fix it.  It kind of irritated me but I know she just felt helpless.  Then the best part of an old friend kicked in.  We got through it and talked about a hundred other things.  She can follow me from deep to frivolity without missing a beat.

 

Know What You Need and Ask For It, Part 2

I also wanted a friend who wouldn’t feel sorry for me, fix me or try to convince me that maybe I do want to have a baby.  I texted an online friend who has also made the choice not to have children.  Again, I told her exactly what was going on.  She cleared some time for me and said, “It sounds perfectly normal to me.”  A weight lifted.  This is normal.  It will pass.  We talked about the grief of passing the fertile years of your life.  She shared insights about leaving a sliver of hope in your heart.  Yes, so true.  We talked about other layers of life from aging parents, being entrepreneurs, friendships and life journeys.  We’re so much more than our infertility.  I told her of the good things in my life and she reminded me to keep following that trail.

 

Share With Your Partner

When my husband got home, I told him what happened.  I didn’t text him.  I told him face to face.  I let him hug me when again, I’d prefer to hide and be alone.  He has learned to just be with me and not try to fix it.

I still have more to share with him.  It might just come through letting him read this post.

That night I had dinner plans with my husband’s family and then to see a niece’s play.  She was one of many pregnancies that surprised and haunted me during that time.  At dinner someone announced a pregnancy.  On any other day, it wouldn’t have bothered me.  However, without my preparedness plan engaged, I might have completely lost it at the table.  I might have left that play heartbroken.  But I was happy and so proud of my niece.  I remembered how much I love my life.  The storm had passed.

Is that the end of the story? No, but in an emergency you do what you can to get the wounds under control and then get more help.  In an emotional emergency, calling in reinforcements is so key.  Don’t go it alone and find a way to let it out, even if it’s on a piece of paper.  Or a blog post.  I’d love to hear how you handle an emotional emergency, too.

Paulina Grace walked away from the infertility roller coaster 6 years ago. She hopes to help other women let themselves grieve and then let themselves live. Outside of running her own business, Paulina fulfills her need to nurture by being an involved aunt and caring for her aging parents. 

Our Stories: Sandra

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our StoriesAt 57, Sandra looks back at a journey that has “morphed, though not intentionally” from married to divorced to single and childfree to a role as what she calls a “professional auntie.” She teaches children and helps shape their character development through work that includes guidance in manners and ethics. (Learn more about her Master Keys books and classes here). “I now honor the sacred role of extended family in raising balanced, healthy kids,” she says. Here’s more of her story. 

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

Sandra:  I’ve been confronted with several of these situations. My marriage dissolved right after we decided it was time to have kids, and at age 39, time ran out.

 

LWB: Describe your dream of motherhood.

Sandra: I work on a staff with a number of Millennials and some Gen X-ers. One of the fellows is a bright, kind, responsible guy. I enjoy his company and like to encourage him in his interests. We chat about the latest NASA projects, historical novels, and music. Recently, at lunch, I watched him studying, and it occurred to me that if I had had a son, I would have hoped he would have been like him. These wistful thoughts reside in a private world of my own.

 

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

Sandra: It’s difficult to not experience so many societal rituals and norms: birthdays, Mother’s Day, graduations, and grandchildren. So many people mark their lives by family events, and that’s just not a reality in my life. One feels like they are on the outside looking in.

 

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

Sandra: I have a level of freedom and spontaneity that few women enjoy. I am extremely productive and creative, and I continue to develop personal interests. I’ve also cultivated a large group of close friendships. As a teacher, I’m 100% available to the students, which allows me to profoundly engage with them. The experience of teaching is then personally rewarding. My world does not revolve around homelife.

 

LWB: What have you learned about yourself?

Sandra: The role of an Auntie is as necessary as the primary caregiver, and I have been able to shape the upbringing of many children. This is deeply satisfying and softens the wound of not having reared my own.

 

LWB: What do you look forward to now?

Sandra: I look forward to releasing my children’s book series and helping to shape the next generation’s emotional intelligence. There is a deep satisfaction in sparking their potential, and I get to participate on my own terms without the resentment of unfulfilled personal dreams that many mothers privately feel.

 

LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”

Sandra: I tell them I have many children; I’m a teacher.

 

Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.

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

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayIs it self-serving to announce one’s own birthday? Oh, well. I’m 44. Who cares?

Today is my birth day, but more importantly, April is my birthday month and I am celebrating. Instead of whining about the years adding up, I’ve decided to treat myself every day this month, whether that’s taking a walk, getting some quiet reading time, or taking myself out for lunch.

As today is my actual birthday, I’m ditching off work and going to my favorite spa spot in the hills for a massage and a cedar enzyme bath. Bliss.

Obviously I have nothing to whine about today, but please feel free to vent in my absence. Just do it quietly if you will, in case I’m having a nap.

Not Less of a Woman

“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.”

~Anaïs Nin

Lisa women circle

There’s an idea going around that not having children somehow makes us “less of a woman.” I don’t subscribe to this idea.

As this quote by author Anaïs Nin states, I am many, many women, and “mother” is only one element of me.

I am a writer, friend, wife, cat mama, reader, thinker, curser, fighter, nature-lover, spider catcher, traveler, cook.

All these women are fluid. They ebb and flow in me as needed. And when one of them isn’t able to fulfill her purpose, the others quickly rally to fill the gap, so I am always whole.

I am never less of a woman.

Our Stories: Kellie

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our StoriesKellie was 19 years old when she got married, and although she always knew she wanted children, starting a family was never discussed in 14 years of marriage. “I never felt the desire to have his children,” she says. A few years after her divorce, she met her current husband, who, like her, was waiting for the “right one to come along.” Although the odds were stacked against them (Kellie was 39 when they got married), they decided to try for the family they both wanted.

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

Kellie: After six months of trying the old-fashioned way, we were told that I had premature ovarian failure. We moved on to IVF, then to using donor eggs, which we attempted three times. We finally decided it was time to get off the roller coaster, work on our marriage (as infertility can definitely take a toll on that), and figure out what Plan B looks like for us.

 

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Kellie: I feel like I am somewhere in the acceptance stage, but at times, even at 45 years old, I still hope for a miracle. I am officially in menopause and know this is completely unrealistic, but I still get moments of “What if?” Maybe that would be a bit of denial as well.

 

LWB: What was the turning point for you?

Kellie: The turning point for me was after I read Lisa’s book (I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home). Up until then, I felt like I was the only one going through this; I was so alone. I would get on the Internet and look for blogs, forums, really anything or anyone that I could relate to or who could relate to me, but what I usually found were topics and discussions on ways to “help you get pregnant”, whether it’s eating this or that, stop stressing, etc., and there were always the success stories that went along with this. I just couldn’t relate. There would be no success story for me, no miracle pregnancy, and I felt so hopeless, a complete failure, and at times suicidal. Somewhere along the way Lisa’s book popped up. I read it, realized I wasn’t alone in this hell, and a peace came over me that I just can’t explain. I joined her blog and have never looked back. I no longer feel shame, and I am no longer embarrassed to tell my story if someone asks.

 

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

Kellie: Not being able to give my husband a child. I often thought I should leave him to give him the chance to find someone younger and fertile.

 

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

Kellie: The freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We are also not nearly as financially strapped as we would be if we had children.

 

LWB: What have you learned about yourself?

Kellie: While on three years of hormone injections, I learned I can be a real bitch! Just ask my husband. J Actually, I am stronger emotionally and mentally then I ever thought I was.

 

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

Kellie: First and foremost, be true to yourself. People who have children will never truly understand what it’s like to be infertile. This includes family as well. I lost a very good friend over this because she just couldn’t understand what I was going through and only offered criticism and judgment about the way I was handling our loss. Furthermore, if you are invited to baby showers, birthday parties, etc., and you really don’t want to go, DON’T GO! Do not ever let anyone make you feel bad for your decision. In time, these events will become easier, but until then, do not force yourself to do anything that makes you sad or uncomfortable. And please do not feel guilty for putting yourself first.

Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.

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

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayI’m currently enjoying a journey into menopause. Yeah, it’s a hoot. All the symptoms of PMS, plus fuzzy head, weight gain, night sweats, the works.

I’ve been reaching out to older friends for advice because there’s a lot about this I don’t know. Most of my friends have gladly offered support, however one woman (a friend of a friend) looked at me and said, “Menopause? You’re too young for that.”

I assured her I was not, and left the conversation, but really, is that a helpful thing to say? Yes, I know I’m too young for menopause. Add it to the list of things my body’s given up before its time. And then ask me how I feel about the possibility the rest of me might be aging faster than it should too. Does this ever end?

As you may have guessed, it’s Whiny Wednesday. I feel better for my venting. Hope you feel better for yours.

Asparagus, hope, and living childfree with no regrets

IMG_1666About this time last year I wrote a post about planting an asparagus bed. For me, this commitment to a long-term project signified a change in my outlook, and a sense that I had finally moved through a long period of uncertainty and could really think about my future.

I now have to confess that the asparagus suffered some neglect under my care. It grew and flowered, but then I ended up traveling a lot and by the end of the summer my poor bed was largely weeds, with a few brown plants.

I felt disappointed in myself for letting it go and I even questioned whether perhaps it was better that I didn’t become a mother, because how could I care for children if I couldn’t keep a few plants alive? Stop me if you’ve had this talk with yourself.

Then, over the winter, we had rain (not much, but some) and last month I spotted something green and delicious-looking among the weeds. Sure enough, I found six tender young asparagus shoots. I snipped them off, steamed them up, and ate them plain. It was by far the best asparagus I’ve ever tasted.

IMG_1668

Given that my asparagus bed has become a metaphor for my journey through non-momhood, I’m looking for a message, and here’s what I see:

I see that even when the surface looks like a big, weedy, hopeless mess, something wonderful and hopeful might be going on underneath. I see that even the minimal amount of care can be enough to nurture something good. And I see that making a commitment to a future you want will result in something positive, even if the journey doesn’t go according to your plan.

And now I’m looking forward to next year, because those six spears have shown me possibility, and next year I know I’m going to have a bumper crop.

 

This Friday, April 4th, I’ll be speaking on a panel at the Fertility Planit show here in Los Angeles. The topic of the panel this year is Living Child-Free with No Regrets, and I’m honored to share the stage with Tracey Cleantis of La Belette Rouge and psychologist, Lynn Newman Zavaro.

I have some guest passes for the show that I’d like to offer up to you. I do want to note that the show is aimed at those still trying to conceive and it’s a wonderful resource for that. However, if you’re in the “trying to come to terms” stage, you may find it difficult to be in what could be a very triggering environment.

If you think you’d like to attend (and say hello) please send me an email through the contact page, and I’ll hook you up with tickets.