Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Are you fooling yourself about the baby thing?



In Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book I reviewed here last week, Tim Kreider, one of the few male authors in the book, says that he makes a point of telling the women he dates early on that he does not intend to have children and that he will not change his mind. “In my experience,” he writes, “people have a bottomless capacity to delude themselves that their partners will eventually change.”

I think this statement is so important to our Childless by Marriage discussion. We do delude ourselves. I know I did. With my first husband, I told myself we would have babies eventually. Maybe we would have if our marriage hadn’t died. My ex didn’t want kids, but he often buckled to pressure from his parents on other subjects and his mother couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. So, maybe. But the evidence doesn’t support that. Now 66 years old, he has been married three times, and he never had any children. Surely at least one of those other wives wanted them, too. But no babies. Dogs yes, children no.

My second husband, Fred, told me he didn’t want any more children. He already had three kids, the oldest already in their late teens. He’d had a vasectomy after his youngest son was born. And yet for years, I did exactly what Tim Kreider said. I deluded myself that somehow something would change and at least one of his sperm would hook up with at least one of my eggs and we’d make babies. Hello, there’s only one Virgin Mary. It did not happen. I menopaused, he died, game over. I’m living alone with a dog.

If you read back through the comments for past posts, there are hundreds, mostly from women, that talk about partners who say they don’t want children. What should I do, they ask. Will he change his mind? He says he might be ready in a few years. He said we’d do it right after X, and now he says no. He won’t talk about it. Etc.

You can’t blame people for hoping. Sometimes their partners are not clear about what they want. Maybe they don’t even know. Sometimes things happen and people change their minds. But when a person says flat out that he or she does not want to have babies with you and they’re not going to change their minds, I think we have to believe that they mean it and that being with them means you will not have children. If that is not acceptable, don’t delude yourself into thinking things will change. Either accept it or move on.

It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. What do you think about this? I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Authors speak from the gray area between childless and childfree





I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “We have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These writers do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children and how their lives would have been different if they had.

The writing is superb. Daum has done a masterful job of putting this anthology together. Its authors include Sigrid Nunez, PaulLisicky, Michelle Huneven, Pam Houston, and others just as talented and accomplished. They wrestle with issues such as childhood abuse, mental illness, the AIDs epidemic, abortion rights, infertility, and the different ways childless men and women are treated. I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to buy a copy; it’s too good not to own.

A few tidbits to ponder:

Sigrid Nunez writes about how she comes from a line of cruel preoccupied mothers. She did not want to repeat that. But also she did not want to give up her writing. She talks about famous women writers who did not have children or who did and neglected or resented them. She shares a quote from Alice Munro in a Paris Review interview: “When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other . . . this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”

Paul Lisicky, who is gay, writes about how in the midst of the AIDS crisis, men like him were just trying to stay alive and would not even consider spreading the virus to their potential children.

Pam Houston focuses on the right to choose whether or not to have children and why she chose freedom.

Elliott Holt, a woman, suffers from depression and fears she could not manage being a mother. But she loves being an aunt.

Tim Kreider notes that humans are the only creatures that deny the natural instinct to reproduce. He looks at possible reasons, including global conditions or evolutionary adaptation. In his own case, he says, he’s afraid he would love his children so much he would be perpetually terrified of something happening to them.

The stories are fascinating and raise many interesting questions to ponder. Best of all, they don’t pass judgment on anyone. Many of these writers have gone back and forth on the question of having children, just as many of the readers here at Childless by Marriage have. Their words offer comfort and insight into the troubling questions we are all dealing with.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Military wife feels extra pressure to have children



Today I am passing the microphone to Kam, who wrote about a topic we have not discussed here at Childless by Marriage: the pressure for military wives to have children. If you can relate, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this.

Kam said...
What a great site and I am thrilled to bits to have stumbled upon you. I'm soon to be 37 and my 39 year old husband is closing in on the last four years of his 20-year military career. We are also childfree by marriage. I was always kind of ambivalent, he changed his mind after we married 7 years ago. Yikes. Let me say that the military is not just defense machine but also a baby-making machine. Trust me, we are freaking unicorns around these parts.

The topic of married and childfree in the military is rarely discussed. I have plowed through your blog hungry for a salve for all that I've experienced being a lifetime military brat and now spouse. There are babies left and right. I've lost most friends to babies except a few rare jewels. I've been told to keep my opinions to myself because "we don't need to hear from a woman without kids." The list is long and seems to be ramping up with my shriveling fertility. What we do have are three dogs and that has become our couple identity. Well, they don't have kids, but they have dogs. Huh? I've found I am constantly defending myself. I am still a MOTHER. I am a woman, maternal and I am a daughter and have a mother. Seems like I've got some qualification to speak but I am reminded daily, I don't. Weird.

Sometimes it's been a bumpy road to navigate. I've literally given up my religion (converted from Jew to Catholic), job security, stability and now children to be with a man who is without a doubt, the love of my life. That doesn't mean that it's always easy for me or us. As a man, he gets high fives for dodging the baby bullet and I get a button jar assortment of judgments. The sacrifices have been and continue to be huge with no real dangling carrot. Martyr? Sadist? Who knows? The psychology here is a bunch of clowns in a tiny car for sure.

I wish I knew where more of us military spouse types without children were getting our coffee at. I'd love to sit at that table sometime.

So there is a topic that could use a spotlight if you can make sense of my ramblings.

Kam posted an additional comment:

Thanks Sue. It can be so isolating and lonely. It also seems to make the whole Pinterest mommy/milspouse/woman cattiness go into overdrive if that makes sense. Motherhood is also another tool to harm in some cases–another weapon to wield against other women. It's the weirdest thing to watch. I'd like to say I'm above it all, but I can't tell you how many times my husband and I armchair parent after a night out with friends with kids.

My blessing is that I am Aunty KA to a few of my friends’ kids and I love that, but . . . it's not my own cute, fat, little pudge of a baby. It's a hard decision to accept. I go back and forth. My husband goes back and forth. So, WE end up going nowhere. We feel the pressure, but he really doesn't want or like kids. He loves dogs.

While I would not have minded having kids, I am a back seat driver. I'm a limp handshake on the topic and that hurts as well. Why don't I have the baby burn? What is wrong with me? I've never felt it as much as I do now. The military lifestyle is so tough, too. People like to say, well you knew what you were getting into. It's so much more than you can imagine. I see a lot of unhappy families and moms that feel so stressed out. Some of them are really stressed out. I have a young, fit friend who is my age, a mother of 4 and she just had a heart attack! Because we move every 2-3 years, we are isolated from our own families, suffer career-wise, and it seems that having kids is just the filler for that (not all of them, but some). I've tried to carve out a different life, but finding civilian friends can be tough too. I wonder if any of your readers are military childfree or know of any sites out there that tackle this topic? Thanks for posting my comments!

Thank you, Kam. God bless you for sharing this. Stay safe.