“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
A girlfriend who also happens to be childfree forwarded me an article about the lifestyles of parents versus non-parents. I’m not going to share it with you because, frankly, you don’t need to read it. We’ve already seen so many variations on this theme, and I’m tired of the us versus them, the haves versus the have-nots. The central question in these articles, many of which are based on surveys, seems to be “Who is happier?”
What strikes me as I think about this is that the answer has nothing to do with what we have or don’t have. It’s not things or jobs or money or even children that make us happy. I know many parents who are miserable, many childfree people who are miserable, and many more from both camps who have found something to be happy about. What they all have in common, I think, is attitude.
I’m reminded of the best piece of advice my grandmother gave me. She passed away after 93 years of life, during which she experienced her share of joys and tragedies.
Me: Gram, what is your secret to life? What has kept you going through all of it?
Gram: (Thinking for a moment) Be happy. No…wait. It’s not just that. It’s realizing you have a choice and choosing to be happy.
Me: Wow. It’s so simple.
Gram: …and I have a scoop of ice cream every day!
I know many of you are treading through rough patches of your journey, and I won’t downplay your need and right to grieve. But when you look at the whole picture of your life, I hope you evaluate it with an attitude of gratitude. I hope you can make that choice. And on days when that’s easier said than done, I hope you’ll join me in enjoying a scoop—or two—of full fat, full sugar, super-delish ice cream.
The baby shower!
A reader wrote:
I would like to know how others handle baby showers. I have vowed to not go to any more baby showers after leaving the last one in tears and disappointed in myself because I felt so strong before I went. Do others have emotional issues about other people’s baby showers or am I alone?
After assuring her that she definitely was not alone in feeling this way, I thought I’d turn the topic over to you. And I’m adding to it the newest horror, the gender reveal party.
Please whine, rant, empathize, and even advise on this most delicate of topics.
I’ve been cleaning out old financial records, shredding old receipts, tossing old files. In the process I came across a calendar from 12 years ago. I took a break from sorting to flip through the pages and remember weddings, first projects with now-cherished clients, and play dates with friends who have since passed.
It is so interesting—sometimes inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking—to look back at who I was, then catch my breath and acknowledge who I’ve become in the past decade. This hit home when I flipped to December 24th, Christmas Eve, and read the only two items on my to do list for that day:
I felt like that woman stepped out of the storage box and punched me in the arm. I knew her so well, for some of her still lingered inside me. She was so self-protective, so determined to not be hurt again. By staying home (alone) for the holidays, she told herself, she was saving money for more important things, with no clear idea of what those things might be. She was avoiding the hassles of travel. She was dodging all possibilities of feeling the sting of being an outsider as “family” gathered to celebrate the holiday.
She was mostly successful.
The painful truth was that she would have felt lonely no matter where she was or whether she was solo or surrounded by other people.
If I could reach back in time to offer advice, would I tell her to do things differently? Probably not. That was such a tender time, when each slight felt more like a stab, when each off-hand comment felt like an insult. She needed that time to tend to her wounds, to build up her shields, and to be able to pull herself out of that all-consuming malaise.
Eventually she did heal, and I did reach the point where I could again be in mixed company for the holidays. Sometimes I’ve been able to join in the fun with other people’s little people, other times I’ve relished a quiet day of rest (and an excuse to spend a few hours reading) with just my family of two + dog. This past December, I joyfully participated in a large festive gathering with extended family members. “Joyfully.” Wow. Twelve years ago I couldn’t have imagined saying, let alone, feeling that word.
I share this with you now because we are coming up on a holiday this weekend, and the Big Holidays are close on its heals. This is going to be a difficult time for many of you, and I am sorry about that. I wish I could make it easier, but I know from experience that you need to go through the hurting and the grieving. My hope for you is that you come out on the other side less than 12 years from now.
If this is your year of celebrating Holidays for One, please be gentle with yourself. If this is your first year diving back into the family mix of things, be brave, and be gentle with yourself. Know that you are not alone and we are here at Life Without Baby if you need a place to vent, rage, and be supported.
I’ve seen this topic come up a lot in the blog comments, so I know that many of you have experienced this. It’s the topic of caring for aging parents, and whether the responsibility is shared fairly when you don’t have children.
What’s been your experience with this?
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I wept as I read Samreen’s story. Her losses, her anger, her depression cut me to the core, in large part because I know how she is feeling. I wish I could reach across the miles and pull her into a safe and comforting hug. I wish we could all do that for each other. At the very least, I hope you’ll join me in the Comments to let her—and all of us—know, “You are not alone.”
LWB: Briefly describe your dream of motherhood.
Samreen: I dream of feeling a baby inside me and bringing her into this world. Raising her, seeing her growing, cuddling her investing my heart and mind in giving her a bright future.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Samreen: By circumstance. I am eight years into marriage. I have had three failed IUIs, two hysteroscopies, and two unsuccessful IVF attempts. We have registered for adoption, but I still want to conceive my own biological child.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Samreen: I feel angry and depressed. I want to accept the infertility factor and move on, but I fail to do so. I feel irritated with the pregnancy news of other women. I feel angry looking at others’ kids. I feel like breaking all connections with the girls/friends who are pregnant and having children. I cry at the thought of not being able to experience motherhood in this lifetime. And these thoughts creep into my mind at least 10 times every day, making me cry.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Samreen: The hardest part is to believe that I will not be able to experience motherhood in this lifetime. People say that it’s a beautiful feeling and nothing can replace it. I wanted to experience it too. I wanted to have child who is a carbon copy of me or my husband, a child who looks like us.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Samreen: I think I am still trying to figure out myself. I do feel scared thinking about the labor pains, but inside the core of my heart, I do crave for a baby that would be my biological child.
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Samreen: “No, we don’t.” But it doesn’t stop at this. The next question always pops up, which has a why in it always. I usually tell them that I am dealing with infertility.
LWB: What do you look forward to now?
Samreen: I look forward to being okay about the fact that I can’t have biological children. I look forward to being a person who has accepted herself with her infertility and inability to deliver a child. I look forward to having peace in my own self and my life. I look forward to being happy.
LWB: What is your hope for yourself this coming year?
Samreen: I feel hopeless and depressed right now.
LWB: How has LWB helped you on your journey?
Samreen: I am hoping that LWB will be able to bring in acceptance on this topic and help in healing my wounds of infertility.
When Samreen emailed me her story, she mentioned she found Life Without Baby through a search for helping with infertility. Is this how you found us? If so, I hope you will take a little time to explore the site and check out the many resources available, from the safe place to share stories (and whines), to the Forums (sign up under “Community”), to the list of books and other websites that might be of help to you. Please be gentle with yourself today. —KGW
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 safe place to vent about 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 respond to hearing that you don’t have children with, “Do you want mine?”
It was a dark and stormy period in my life. I was single, alone, lonely, and hoping to turn my close-knit group of friends into a contemporary family unit. One of those friends, Karen*, was going through a particularly ugly period with her siblings and felt like she also needed to redefine family. So she presented me with an idea that seemed to partially solve both our problems:
“If something happens to me and my husband,” she said, “what would you think of being our children’s guardian?”
No brainer. I loved Karen and her husband and would do anything to help them. I also loved her kids, and I knew I would step in and do my very best to raise them well.
Plus, instant family! I started to plan out various scenarios with me in the starring role. The comforter, the mentor, the auntie admired by all for courageously and selflessly raising someone else’s children. The proud substitute-mom at soccer games, choir performances, and graduations. The doting grandmother….
I completely glossed over the tragic demise of two close friends.
You’ll be relieved to know that Karen and her husband are alive and well, and their kids are now in college. Karen reconciled with her siblings and designated one of her brothers and his wife as potential guardians. All was as it should be.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I knew it was wrong, but those evil fantasies were tantalizing, alluring, even comforting. Getting a ready-made family seemed simpler (and possibly more possible) than my plan for dating, finding a suitable husband/father, and following the traditional route to family making (which, as you all know, didn’t pan out for me).
Every so often a mom friend will complain to me about her kids and say, “Do you want them?” and I’ll think, Be careful what you wish for.
*Not her real name.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is mostly at peace with her childfree status.
Facebook has been the topic of many Whiny Wednesday rants, and rightly so. Social media in general has perpetuated a myth of happiness that can make any kind of pain feel worse. So this week, our topic is this:
“The Illusion of Other People’s Perfect Lives”
Let us know how you feel.
By Lisa Manterfield
I like to tell this story about a conversation I once had with a group of people I had recently met. I remember 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?
~ "a raw, transparent account of the gut-wrenching journey of infertility."
~ "a welcome sanity check for women left to wonder how society became so fixated on motherhood."