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.