Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is having dogs better than having kids?

I could re-write the headline to read: "Atlanta Braves player and 23-year old new wife delay having kids."

It seems recently-married Atlanta Braves heart-throb, Jeff Francoer, and his wife, Catie, are more interested in their pet dogs at the moment than starting a family. And why rush? They have known each other since 3rd grade, and now want to enjoy some quality time with each other and their dogs before having kids.

According to the article "Meet the Francoeurs" in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Every weekend, Brody [one of their two infirmed King Charles Cavalier spaniels] goes to a pet shrink for his anxiety issues. "Our little mascots," Catie calls them. "They are great birth control." "Oh yeah, they are," agrees Jeff. They've decided to wait at least five years to have a kid.

Which makes sense, of course. At age 23, Jeff is a young ball player entering the peak years of his profession, which includes extensive travel and time away from home.

But what is it about having dogs that seems to be a better substitute for having a family? Wait, don't answer that - I sense that those readers who are parents will be a little too quick on the draw on that one.

I grew up with dogs and have fallen prey to their wiles. I would say I am a dog person, even though I don't own one now (allergies). While they do need potty training and a gentle scolding now and then, dogs don't talk back, they give unconditional love and with a life span of just 10-15 years or so, they get out of your life relatively quickly. You can give them away at any time and can even crate them at night or board them when you take a trip with no calls from DFCS. If you don't like the one you have, you can get another one if you feel like it (or not!). Mrs. Hughes, a comedian with a short bit on You Tube, put it best when her 15-year old son asked why she had him and she replied, "Well we didn't know it'd be YOU."

When I think of it this way, there are times I would prefer a dog to my husband.

In an earlier post I quoted my own mother, a dog breeder, who said, "Carol, I don't know why you want to have kids so badly. Why, if we didn't have kids, it would have been that much sooner that we would have gotten our dogs!" I just remember doing a double take to look at her, and she was dead serious (maybe I should pick a better adjective) and very intent on describing her love for her dogs. To this day, this quote just cracks me up. If it didn't, I'd be in some serious counseling.

So what is to become of us? Should I get a chart out and plot the population growth of the King Charles Cavalier spaniel compared the population growth of the American homo sapien? When I look at the United States' total fertility rate, we are at 2.09 according to the CIA World Factbook, just barely at the replacement rate for our population (a rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers). We are ahead of Canada at 1.61 but behind Mexico at 2.39. China is at 1.75, but in terms of sheer numbers, their population (1.3B) pretty much quadruples ours (301M). That makes their replacement rate more like a 7 if you normalize this for the US population. Hope you like dim sum.

With 73 million dogs in the US and an average litter size of way more than 2.09 puppies (plus multiple litters per bitch), I'm pretty sure I can skip over the hard math here to point to the concern that the US population may end up having more dogs than children in our near future. While I'm not sure if little Spot will be groomed properly to become our next president, chances are likely that he will be owned by very happy DINKs similar to Jeff and Catie.

Do you think I should call Catie and let her know about her biological clock?

Friday, January 18, 2008

New thoughts on delayed motherhood

Allison Pearson wrote an article on the Daily Mail (UK) titled "I've come to my senses over delayed motherhood." It has some great perspective on this topic and really resonates with me, echoing my concern about "who is going to talk to our daughters about delaying motherhood?"

In her article she states:
The other day I was sitting with my friend Nicky watching our ten-year-old girls play together when my daughter announced: "Mum, I'm not going to have babies till I'm old. Like 23 or something." Nicky and I laughed. And somewhere in the back of my mind was the speech I knew I should be making to my daughter.

The one about how important it is that a girl has a good education, then gets a job that will fulfill her potential and give her financial independence. Once she's established, well, maybe then she can start thinking about children.

It's a creed I have lived my life by, but now the time had come to pass it on to my own child I just couldn't. Because I don't quite believe it any more.

She goes on to say:
Our jobs ate us up, but we were so hungry to do well that we didn't care if we were stressed and miserable. Then, when we hit our mid-30s, we dialled up our babies like a takeaway. And, yes, they came and were lovely beyond imagining, but it turned out we were the lucky ones. So many friends and colleagues tried to do the same thing and their bodies didn't deliver. The best-educated generation of women in history had forgotten to read the small print about human fertility. They waited until the time was right, only to find that time had run out.

Allison makes a great point here:
If I could have one wish for my daughter it would be that she should feel she has permission to jump off the merry-go-round of work when her body asks her to. And that she should be confident there will be a space for her when and if it's time to get back on again.

I actually believe that time is here. Why don't women believe this for themselves? This issue of success at work seems to be at the crux of women's fears - but is that really it? We women have become so rabid about making it in the working world, I wonder if it is really about success at work, or is it that we are trying so hard to compete with men on their definitions of success (hunter) that we have lost our own definition (nurturer) and perspective on life?

Or is this a societal change - that after hundreds of thousands of years, women can no longer rely on a man to care for them and their family? There is no hunter/gatherer environment anymore. We no longer need a large family to work the land for our survival. Economics and the standard of living have changed the game so much that one person's income can no longer support a family of 3+. The traditional family unit has decayed to the point that it is easy to argue that there is no traditional family unit anymore. We may not be "politically correct" if we do not broaden the definition to include double-income-no-kids (DINKS), single-income-no-kids (SINKS), single mother head of household, gay marriages, kids with two gay parents, etc. And, alas, it seems there is no going back either. Society has changed irreparably, and delayed motherhood is just another indicator of how whacked we have become.

Finally, Allison puts it all into perspective:
Fear there is no going back keeps so many women from making babies. But without the love of children there is no going forward.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm not "Lovin' Later Motherhood"

I enjoyed this post found at this link on Heather Cabot's Do read the full post, but here are the choice excerpts that struck me, and my concerns at the bottom:
The number of women who've delayed first-time motherhood until their mid-thirties or beyond has grown tenfold over the past 30 years according to researcher Elizabeth Gregory, associate professor and director of the Women's Studies Program at the University of Houston and the author of the new book titled, Ready: Why Women are Embracing The New Later Motherhood (Basic Books 2008).

"Women are choosing when they want to have children for the first time in history," she told me in an interview this week. She says their decisions, due in part to birth control, longer life expectancy and new fertility technologies are spurring societal changes including more participatory dads and more employers accommodating family-friendly schedules."

"Most consistently, I heard (from the women) that waiting offered them the chance to establish themselves, as individuals and in their work, to find the right partners...and to achieve a measure of financial stability. When they did have their kids, they felt ready to focus on their children's development rather than their own," Gregory says.

So maybe us Gen-X slackers had it right all along. We've been delaying marriage and parenthood to find ourselves and at the same time maturing so we could actually handle the responsibility of raising a child.

But somewhere along the way, I became aware of biological realities. Despite advances in fertility treatments, it's tough to ignore the ticking clock at some point. Gregory found that her research subjects were keenly aware of the timeline. I was, when I finally hit thirty. But the chance to live the life of a single working person, to pay my own bills, to bask in my own professional accomplishments, and most importantly, to know I can support myself and live independently were tremendously important lessons for me. And now at age 37, with two-year-old twins, I think I am a better mother for it.

If you are perfectly set up to have a family at 32, then fine. But if you are not, why add the burden of all this anxiety?" asks Gregory. She hopes her research will empower other women to feel confident in their decisions to choose motherhood when it feels right.

The false assumption in this article is that women who delayed motherhood are, in fact, still able to have kids in their mid to late 30s, and beyond. Some can, but not everyone. This blog is for those who can't.

So why does "delaying marriage and parenthood" seem so attractive in exchange for the chance to mature? It seems to be a trade off to me - or perhaps more of a time shift:

  1. If you have kids at age 21, they will turn 21 when you are 42. Tada! More free time and no more college payments! 20+ more years to build up for your retirement, enjoy grandkids, get the red sports car, start a second career (or marriage). Personal growth and expansion begins again at age 42.
  2. Versus, if you have kids at 41, they will turn 21 when you are 62. What? (Sound effect: car screeching and sliding to a halt). This scenario involves entering retirement after 20 years of investing in the children and their college funds. Personal growth time happened during your 20-30s (hope you enjoyed it, if you can remember it), and begins again in your 60s.

I'm not Gen-X - I'm a tail-end Baby Boomer - but I too had considerations that delayed motherhood: I wanted to get established in a career, then make sure my husband was on board (ah, but he wasn't. ever). Then I didn't start really worrying about this until my 30s. My concern is that women's arguments (rationalizations?) in favor of delaying motherhood are just as serious as the arguments against delaying motherhood:

  1. Very real potential biological impossibility. You really can't just go through infertility treatments and get a matched set of twins on the first try. Bravo to those who can, you won the lottery.
  2. Age-related infertility treatments are only available to those who can afford it
  3. Medical dangers related to infertility treatments. I know it seems that any celebrity can do this, but even they would say it wasn't easy and was very physically difficult, even life threatening. I'm amazed at how this is so minimized in the media.
  4. Entering a stage in life where you, too, want to enjoy more freedom but give it up for motherhood until you are in your late 50s or 60s
  5. Less ability to handle the physical limitations of keeping up with toddlers and odd sleeping hours at a later age
  6. Tapping into your retirement to pay for college when it could have been paid for 20 years earlier had kids been had earlier
  7. Losing that investment growth from age 40-60 as you were instead spending on the family/children (versus your spending time being from age 25-45)
  8. Career-interrupted syndrome or being Mommy-tracked, perhaps delaying all the hard work the mother made earlier in her career during her self-indulgent time. Or, her career continues but the trade off is compromised quality time with the kids due to the mother keeping up a senior level career in order to maintain the higher status of living expected when she is older.

The author said "When I turned 23, a year older than the age my mom had me, motherhood was the last thing on my mind...Looking back, I wouldn't trade that self-indulgent time in my life for anything."

I am sure in 20 years the author wouldn't change a thing about her choices, and it does sound like she got to have her cake and eat it too. I wish I could have taken that path. I don't think any mother would wish she timed her motherhood any differently (for those who did, in fact, get to become mothers).

But what about those who waited and did not get to become mothers after all? Oh, darn. Don't they wish they knew all the ramifications of delaying this decision when they were younger? No one, I mean no one, was talking about the urgency to have children when I was in my 20s. I don't remember any friend counseling me with, "You know, Carol, it will be a lot harder to have children in 20 years; don't you think you should get on the stick now?" Plus, I was too busy being self-indulgent to care at that time!

Is there any hope that this discussion would come up earlier in younger women's lives, so they can make informed decisions about when they choose to become a mother? Justifying delaying motherhood is pretty easy given all the hope provided with infertility treatments these days, the desire for self-indulgence at a younger age, and of course hindsight being 20/20. But do 20 year old women have any clue what they are in for? If they were warned in some way, would they choose to not delay motherhood, but to bring it on earlier?

I would say that I wish I had this discussion in my 20s, but that, too, would be 20/20 hindsight. I seriously doubt I would have listened (see my second post to attest to that fact). Instead, I got to live in Europe and travel the world! Spend 3 years dating my first husband before we got married! Gain progressive responsibility in my first company for 15 years! And where did that get me? I have just the memories of Europe now.

Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and this really wasn't a problem until the Pill was invented and the sexual revolution happened (I'll post more about this later). How are we supposed to counsel our daughters (or nieces if you didn't have kids) now, and when will society and the media encourage common sense instead of self-indulgence?

Clearly, I have no answers. I do feel sort of cheated. Like I got the cake, but did not get to eat it. Because, at the end of the day, what should be more important in life: enjoying self-indulgence in my 20s and building a career in my 30s...or enjoying the first laugh of a baby who has my husband's eyes?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No, I did not forget to have children

In fact, having kids or not having kids has been on my mind since around, say, 1992. I was 27 and in love, about to marry someone who wasn’t exactly the man of my dreams, but, by gosh, did we ever love each other and love conquers all, right? He was funny, a great dance partner and had lived with me for almost 3 years. And he loved me. Lots. So much so that I thought that at least I knew this guy was crazy about me and that wouldn’t change.

How do you identify true love? And if you identify it, when do you cross that line of maturity - or immaturity – to decide that, yes, this is the one for whom I should cast all other potential suitors aside? At 27, I figured this was my one shot and I could not think of why I should look any further – this was love and that was what you do next.

LJ was kind, caring, and only lost his temper once a quarter. He was funny, cute, and who cared that he did not have the pedigree that my family had bred me to follow. In fact, the more Dad tried to talk me out of getting married to someone he did not think was a good match for me, the more I was convinced he did not know what he was talking about. Couldn’t he see? We were in love! And nothing, not a few dinners and a few choice words from my father were going to stop me from marrying LJ I knew what the next step was. But thanks for the advice; I’ll take it from here.

So that was that. Until, I thought, maybe we should make this more official, and get some “pre-marital counseling” just to prove how right we were for each other. We found a minister from an article in the Living section of the paper, a ringing endorsement to be sure. Plus, he offered an extra pre-marital workshop as part of the deluxe wedding package. LJ and I filled out our workbooks before the session, and met with the minister to review our answers and talk through the inevitable topics of money, conflict, in-laws and children.

“So, how do you feel about having a family? Carol, let’s start with you,” the minister asked. “Well, it isn’t something we’ll jump into right away,” I said, “but I’m sure kids are in the cards.” I answered assuredly for both of us, looking at LJ.

LJ looked down, changed the way he sat, and half-smiled. “What are your thoughts?” the minister asked him. LJ paused, looked away from me and said, “Sure. I mean, I already have two kids but they live with their mother so it should be fine.”

The minister paused, asked a few more probing questions about children to which he got shorter and shorter answers from LJ, and moved on to the other topics. My mind, however, was racing. Wait a minute, I thought, we better slow down on this one. We hardly ever talked about kids, other than his kids who he rarely visited. His response when I teased him about us having kids was similar – evasive, even non-responsive, and then changing the topic. This did not bother me before we were engaged as, gosh, we didn’t have to settle this yet. We weren’t married yet. I was interested in establishing a career as was he, and the most important thing we had talked about as a couple was whose family we needed to visit for Thanksgiving.

At the end of the session, the minister declared us a typical couple: very in synch on some things but not totally in synch on all. The purpose of this counseling, he said, was to bring issues to the front burner for further discussion before we got married. With that, he left after discussing some of the details of the wedding day itself, which was just 3 weeks away.

Front burner? Where had this been simmering before in the past three years? Was the burner even turned on? Before, our relationship had been about being in the moment and in love, and then – BAM – focusing on the enjoyment of being engaged and obsessing on wedding details. We had an event to plan! But, now, I thought for the first time, how did I feel about having kids – or not having kids? I had assumed that, while I wasn’t in any hurry to have a family, we would indeed have one. That is what you did, right? But no rush, of course. LJ would get over his ambivalence once he saw how great it was to be married to me. After all, he found out about his first daughter when he was unmarried, 18 and in boot camp. A shotgun wedding and unhappy marriage certainly could not compare to our fairy tale romance. We were different I thought, and love conquers all.

I brought this subject back up after the minister had left. LJ was evasive and non-responsive. When pressed, all he could say was, “I don’t want to lose you over this.” Lose me? I wasn’t even thinking about losing each other; I was thinking about how I had assumed I would have a family with the man I wanted to marry. He had a family once before and surely it would be WAY better with me. We discussed this for hours. Actually, I discussed this for hours. LJ mostly just sat there.

Did we get married? Yes, it was beautiful. Did we resolve the issue? No. I thought that it would resolve itself. That once he saw how great our life was together and how much we loved each other, he’d change. That it would be true that women want children when they meet the man they marry and men want children when they see their first child. That love, and then time, would take care of everything.

I gave it lots of time, and thought about having a family and what it meant to me more and more as time marched on. Right through my mid-thirties, when biological clocks chimed at me from every wall and every corner. I noticed everyone was having children, including friends, sisters, friends’ sisters, women in Lifetime movies, you name it. And, most painfully, women in front of me in line at the grocery store, with handsome husbands and cute kids who clamored to get out of the cart or push the cart or put something in the cart.

Did we make it? No. LJ did not waver and wouldn't talk to me about it. While we did go on to have many happy years together, we finally went through counseling and learned that “you can’t have half a child.” The marriage did end, but not just because of the kids-no kids debate. And probably not in time for me to have kids with anyone else (though the jury is still out). But definitely in time for me to concede that, in the end, love just may not conquer all.

Why I created this blog

So, to kick off this blog I will begin with posting (next) an article I wrote for a writing group I recently joined. That post provides the backdrop on how I came to this position - that of how I didn't have kids but wanted some, and learning to deal with the outcome. In fact, that post just talks about what was going on in my life through about 2000.

Since then, I may have successfully swung my leg over the wall of resignation and acceptance. But I'm not certain of this, and only hindsight will confirm that suspicion. I feel like I'm in a firestorm of hope, dismay, and yet more hope as I come learn more about how my life is unfolding. I hope this blog will inspire other women who didn't have kids (yet?) to share their stories. Ultimately, I'd like to publish a book called "No, I Did Not Forget To Have Children" as a way to provide healing, hope and a sense of connectedness for those women who are wrestling with this same issue. I'm beginning the outline, and will solicit permission from those who contribute to this blog to be included in the book (when I get to that point).

We who feel this way are not alone, but feel very lonely as this is a topic that we cannot discuss freely with those around us. Here are a few reasons why I feel I cannot easily discuss this topic with others:
  • Parents do not understand - in fact my own mom, a dog breeder, said "Carol, I don't know why you want to have children so badly. Why, if we didn't have kids, it would have just been that much sooner that we would have gotten our dogs!" I just laughed, you have to know my mom. It is more fun to repeat this statement and see the look of shock on people's faces than to get upset about it.
  • Friends do not understand - they each have made their own kids-no-kids decision and have pre-set notions on the right answer. While some good friends may listen attentively(and I hope you have many of these friends), I have been afraid to broach the subject with any of my friends after getting accosted by a few people who have very staunch opinions on the subject. Most of my friends are quite opinionated! Perhaps I am too sensitive about this topic to really speak about it with those who know me the best - I'm much more comfortable talking with strangers about this. Why is this? Perhaps I am afraid of swaying my friend's opinions of my husband, or myself. Perhaps I'll know more about this when I blog about it.
  • Husbands do not understand - they may all too well understand if you both are pining for a family, in which case they could be your number one confidant (yay for you!). Or they may be on the opposite side of the fence from you, standing over the septic tank while they think their grass is greener (thanks, Erma).
  • The media does not understand - everywhere we see products marketed to us as a family unit; it seems all we see on TV and in the movies are families (or perhaps, I am focused on seeing just that?). When a childless woman is shown, she is shown as a professional ball-breaker, lonely and single. Who said childless women are all single? Of course, the purpose of every species on this planet is to procreate, and we are all a product of a family - thankfully so! What will become of us if the population growth rate slows to less than one child per couple? I'll probably expound on this in a future blog.

This blog is not intended to promote those women who have decided to not have children as they feel it is the better choice, and they are proud of their decision. "Child Free" they like to call themselves, as opposed to being "Breeders". Yay for them, but I have seen that turn into a debate on the merits of choosing life with children versus choosing not to have children, and I don't necessarily want to open up that can of worms. There are plenty of other blogs with that information. I have learned there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to this topic, and being divisive and judgemental of other's decisions is not productive and is a sure-fire way to hurt someone's deepest feelings.

This blog is for those women whose choices - whether through indecision or focus on career or unawareness of their biological clock or marriage or divorce or choices made in life in general - impacted their ability to have children, and thus, they didn't have kids but still wanted some. If you are struggling with this situation now, please know you are not alone. In addition, I'd love to hear from women who did go through a similar life-crisis and are happy now with their outcome - with or without children.

I hope I'm getting there - to acceptance that I didn't have kids and happiness with the outcome. I have days now where I struggle with fading hope, blame and self-recrimination (did I bring this on myself?). I also have days filled with a shred of hope that maybe I'll get to have children through other methods at some future life stage. If I ultimately do not have children, I envision myself using this life to instead impact others in a unique way that would not have been possible if I had children. But it wouldn't be that I chose that direction, rather that it chose me through my own subconscious - while my conscious gets to deal with the ramifications. (Hmm, Freud? Jung? The Law of Attraction?)

At least, that's what I hope for, but I just don't know yet how to get there. This blog is my first step to figuring that out. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you end up posting, thank you for contributing to the dialogue and to helping others through this process.