“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.
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.
My friend Patti* announced to our group of mutual friends that after a long period of trying to decide if she really really wanted kids, she was pregnant. We raised our glasses of nonalcoholic sparkling cider and toasted her future, then Ellen, one of our childfree friends, leaned over to me and whispered, “Well, I guess she got her happy ending.”
It’s been weeks since this scenario, and I can’t get it out of my head. Why is it that for so many women, a “happy ending” means the over-the-top wedding with the fairy princess bridal gown or a baby? Just look at movies geared toward women—“chick flicks”—and you’ll see what I mean. Stressed-out career gal lands hot leading man and looks forward to blissful domestic life. Cinderella gets her Prince. The bridesmaids finally all get along. Soft-focus on a pink, pudgy baby as happy parents gaze lovingly at each other and fade to credits.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my journey, is that there are no happy “endings,” but lots of new beginnings. I mean, if you think about it, Patti’s ending is actually the beginning of a new chapter in her life, one that I hope will be mostly happy. And if there’s another thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are as many definitions of “happy” as there are people.
Some of my happy beginnings include finally getting married in my mid-40s because I loved the guy (versus needing to find a father for future children), discovering the satisfaction of a challenging and thriving career, having the time and energy to be a devoted friend and the world’s best aunt, and doing some things that are fun and are just for me.
Happy ending? Pfft! I’m just getting started!
*Not their real names, of course.
I’m experimenting with trying new things, trying to figure out what I’ll include in my next chapter. Taking a class (or going back to school?), engaging in potential new hobbies, challenging my mind and body in new-to-me ways…all are on the to do list. I’d love some inspiration and hope you’ll share your ideas/plans in the Comments. xoKGW
40 years after the birth of the first IVF baby, the fertility industry has come a long way. But when it comes to the psychological aspects of infertility, most clinics are still in the dark ages. And for those of us for whom IVF was not the magic fix, what happens to us afterwards?
This week’s topic is for those of you who arrived here via the infertility route.
Do you feel you were left hanging by the fertility industry?
Okay, I know that’s a loaded question, so if you don’t feel like jumping in on this topic, or if it doesn’t apply to you, feel free to bring your own whine to the party this week.
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
It’s been four years since Justine first shared her story with us. I remember reading it for the first time and feeling in awe of the strength she had to state “I will always be a mother,” and how she defined that. Today she continues to impress me with her courage, her candor, her grace as she lives her life.
Her original story, first posted in June of 2014, appears below, followed by her update. The words of encouragement she now offers to her younger self inspire me, and I hope they will inspire you too.
• • •
Serious back problems (including surgeries and a year spent in a body cast) in her youth caused Justine to never be able to carry a pregnancy, so she didn’t think much about becoming a mother. Then the gestational surrogacy option became a media darling, and she started to think about new possibilities for creating a family. Justine and her husband endured two rounds of IVF, two transfers, and the loss of three potential babies. She’s 34 now. They have stopped all treatments, know that adoption is not an option, and are actively working to accept a childfree life together. Here’s some of her story.
LWB: What’s the hardest part about not having children?
Justine: Always fighting this feeling of not belonging. In every sense of the traditional woman my age, I will not belong because I am not a mother. However, I have learned that I will always belong, even when I do not feel I fit in, because that is my right and worthiness.
LWB: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Justine: That I will always be a mother. I mother and parent my dogs. I mother and parent my clients as a therapist. I mother and parent all the children in my life. I just mother and parent in a different way, and in a lot of ways, I have a bigger audience than I would have if I’d had my own children. I also get to have different—not necessarily better, but just different—relationships with all of the children in my life because I am not their actual parent.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Justine: I’m a lot stronger and braver than I thought I was, especially in owning my story with courage.
LWB: What’s one thing you want other people (moms, younger women, men, grandmothers, teachers, strangers) to know about your being childfree?
Justine: I think a lot of times we are considered to be sad and bitter women, or people feel major pity for us. I think after we do our work of recovering from struggles we can actually have better and happier lives. It took major work to get to this side. My sad and bitter moments are few and far between, but I have to stay on top of my recovery.
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Justine: I hit people with the truth and take the teaching moment. I usually say something to the effect that we tried to have our own children but can’t. I might say that we are learning to accept a childfree life, but we have a lot of children in our lives through our friends and family.
LWB: What is your hope for yourself this coming year?
Justine: Continue my recovery, especially getting stronger in it. I will continue to work on my blog, Ever Upward [see below]. I hope that it can reach more and more women and continue to open up the conversation to the other side of infertility.
• • •
LWB: Where are you on your journey today?
Justine: Grief is lifelong—I will have forever wonders of who my three would be. And, I love my life. Love it. Every day I do the work to honor myself and my three, living in the sacred space of the forever grieving mother and doing the work to make it all a gift. I am the best version of myself, and I got myself back, the better self, after this brutal journey and because I choose to do the daily work of moving through grief, loving myself and others, living authentically, and teaching it to others. Because I am a mother of mothers. Because I am a mother. Because, without a doubt, I choose to love my journey, hard parts and all.
LWB: What would you like to say to the you of 2014?
Justine: Keep going. It will be harder, and most of all, more beautiful, grand, and better than you ever imagined.
Learn more about Justine’s work, her books, and her blog at her website.
Won’t you share your story with us? Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.
I love playgrounds. I love the smells of grass and sand, and that tangy scent from old metal swing chains and jungle gyms. When I take one of the many little humans in my life out for a play date, a nearby park is frequently our destination, and when I’m out on my own or with a dog, I love to sit and simply watch and listen to the sounds of joy and happiness.
Maybe that’s why I take the growing “No Adults Allowed” trend so personally.
As a childfree human, my presence near a playground is now suspect. I am no longer welcome, I am no longer allowed, and it hurts.
I understand the concerns, certainly in light of the horror stories that appear in the nightly news about child abuse and abductions. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want to be worrying that a serial molester was shooting video of his future victims while I ignorantly let my babies twirl on the merry-go-round.
And yet…parks to me symbolize a little piece of freedom in our ever-stressed-out world. A place where we can run in circles till we fall down in dizzy giggles, or chase a butterfly or kite, or lie in the grass and look for shapes in the clouds. Parks are where we can escape all of our shoulds and should-haves and, for a briefly delicious period, let our minds wander and our imaginations expand.
As a child, I loved to create secret missions for myself that involved climbing trees, hiding behind benches, and talking into my watch as I, a super-hero spy, brought down the bad guys (Nancy Drew and Charlie’s Angels were my peers in my fantasy world). When I was a young-ish adult, I loved following my nephews down the slides and pushing my nieces in the swings as they squealed, “Higher, Aunt Kath, higher!” These days I’m content to sit on the sidelines, enjoying the cacophony of shouts and laughter as other children create their own adventures. For a few moments, I can soak up a bit of their free-spiritedness, and even allow myself to drift in a big girl fantasy in which one of those sweet voices belongs to a child of mine.
Alas, it’s no longer allowed.
Kathleen’s favorite places on earth include New York’s Central Park, Rome’s Borghese Gardens, South Pasadena’s Garfield Park, and Stow Lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
~ "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."