Saturday, December 27, 2008

Goodbye Google Ad Sense

Faithful readers (all four of you) may have noticed that I have had the Google Ad Sense gadget on this blog. Google Ad Sense of course promises a small check in the mail as advertising payment once you achieve a certain threshold of visits and click throughs. I don't really have a mission to have a huge number of visitors, and also have not received any checks in the mail, but left it up on the site nonetheless. The ads are contextual and are selected based on the content on the page. Initially I watched them and they appeared to be innocuous, probably as I didn't have much content up yet.

However, I checked out the ad Google Ad Sense put on my blog today. It was a link to, described as "a social site where adults who have chosen to be childfree can meet and get to know one another." I visited the site...yikes. While the premise is helpful, I just can't relate to many of the folks who post there. Most of the posters either a) celebrate being "childfree" (like children are a disease or parasites) to the point of criticizing and mocking "breeders," or b) clearly make choices that are self-centered even to the point of not caring what their spouse feels about the child/no-child decision in the marriage.

I'm glad there are places for people with those sentiments. I have been gravitating toward other forums such as Childless Not By Choice which has been very supportive, is more Christ-centered and is more sensitive to the complex nature of this issue.

In the meantime, goodbye HNK and goodbye Google Ad Sense.

Book Resources for Childless Women

I found this link to be very interesting. It is a list of books compiled by Sue Fagalde Lick on the topic of being childless and dealing with it. I am ordering the two books listed below. The description of each book is from Sue who also has another blog called "Childless by Marriage."

Never to Be a Mother: A Guide for All Women Who Didn't--or Couldn't Have Children, by Linda Hunt Anton, HarperCollins, 1992.
This is basically a psychological self-help book. It offers 10 steps for dealing with childlessness. The focus is on grieving and gradually accepting the loss of the children one will never have. It may be hard to find, but will be helpful to women dealing with the loss of the children they'll never have.

Childless But Not Barren, by Kristen Johnson Ingram, Magnificat Press, 1987.
It's exceedingly preachy, more than a little corny, and the fictionalized Bible stories are filled with errors, such as expecting Mary's cousin Anna and her husband to write notes to each other. Anna would have been illiterate. Nor would she had thought, gee, my husband is a half hour late getting home. However, this Christian book for childless women touched me more than once, even inspired me in places. Ingram offers stories of nine childless women from the Bible and nine women from real life and shows how their faith in God led them to live fulfilled and valuable lives. The first three women of both eras conceived late in life, their trust in God satisfied. The next three raised other women's children, and the last three worked for the glory in other ways, one as the "mother of Israel," another as a prophet, another as a spiritual guide. Ingram's moral: trust in God, put him above all things and don't waste your life moping about not having children. Use the life you are given and the mothering skills you have to care for others and spread God's light in whatever way you can.

I'll let you know what I think of these books when I get through them!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas wrap-up

Merry Christmas to all! I think it was a good idea to have folks over Christmas morning after all, though I’m not totally committed to doing this every year. Right before the brunch I thought I was a little loony to be inviting an assortment of people over on a day when most folks don't even leave the house and just soak in the quietness of the day. I even swore I wouldn't do it next year before the brunch had started! I think the worst part was finishing up cleaning the house on Christmas morning (tidying up bird cages is the worst, but I don't want guests to see what messes birds REALLY are). I got sort of frazzled and depressed, so I just made myself stop and get on my knees to pray that God would take my depression away and help me to stop focusing on myself and to instead focus on Him and on helping others enjoy the morning.

We ended up having a dozen or so folks come over, and amazingly most showed up right at 11am! The friends that came over were an assortment as I predicted: a single friend, two whose spouse was out of town or didn't want to socialize, a couple whose children from a previous marriage went off to the other parent’s for the day, and a few families with kids which made it a great and balanced mix. It was a nice morning with lots of conversation that went through several pots of coffee and most of the food. I really enjoyed chatting with everyone, especially getting to know the family of 6 that came over representing 3 generations.

My husband and I didn't have time to open up all of our own presents until after everyone left. He was a gem and even put up with me being in my day-of-party-panic mode for a little while. After an afternoon nap we then went to the latest Bond movie. So, that made it a busy day and very enjoyable overall (with only a little bout of a pity party). Today - WHEW - holiday is over.

Will I do this again next year? I think I will, though I wouldn't say this is quite a tradition yet. My grandmother and her sisters/brothers always held a huge Christmas brunch. It was not just a tradition it was a prominent annual event, it served as the ending punctuation for the year. I certainly don't think this brunch will quite have that significance in my life or others, not yet anyway, but I do think it will be a nice respite for people in similar positions to enjoy...and a way to surround myself with a "family" of friends at a time that could be very lonely.

I hope your Christmas morning was wonderful in its own way, and that you found some time to enjoy the day too!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Development Arrested

So, why did I call this post “Development Arrested?” The reason why I am in a “woe is me” funk is not only because I am clearly still working through the grieving and mourning process of this life condition (“childless not by choice”), but also because I feel like I am missing out on a key part of life, a key part of my personal development. I am sad that I am missing the life experiences of raising a little person and teaching him/her how to read and important lessons in life, enjoying silly laughter, sharing his/her experiences. Sometimes I can’t relate to women that have kids. I don’t know the lingo or what is popular with families these days; I feel like I am from a different country yet I am familiar with the language and the currency. I read articles in the doctor’s office about child development and they have always fascinated me. My knowledge ends with the last period in the article and I feel like there must be more to the story – but I don’t know what. In a conversation with friends about their families, sometimes I have little to contribute, no experiences to share. I hear some of my friends talk about troubles with kids in school or with teachers and I have no idea what to offer; I haven’t been there and no Berlitz book can help me. Sue Fagalde Lick in her blog, “Childless by Marriage” said, “One of my missions in this blog and my other writing is to make people understand that women who don't have children miss a lot in life, including learning how to take care of them.”

I try to relish the benefits of being childless – like the free time, the ability to stay up late and read a book, or go shopping in the afternoon if I want to. I can go out of town anytime I want (with a call to my pet sitter and available vaca days at work) - my hubby and I are planning a trip to Bonaire! I can donate time and money to a charity for Atlanta’s homeless. I can spend time on my bible study, on work, on a new passion, on figuring out a new life purpose. But many times I feel like these luxuries are so shallow, so hollow. And, I haven’t figured out a new life purpose yet.

If I turn back to scripture, 1 Corinthians 13 outlines what is important in life: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I do have faith, and I do have hope. I guess I had hoped for more love, more people to love in my life, in my family. Instead, I know I must rejoice in the people that I do have to love! Well, when I am allowed to love them, on their terms. In the meantime, I know the Lord loves me, any time, all the time, and that comforts me.

Holidays: No one gets out unscathed

I know that title is pretty cynical, but I really thought I was going to get through this holiday season unscathed. I hoped to not have as much pain about not having a family as in the past. I remind myself I DO have family: my dad lives in Texas, sister in New Mexico. I saw my in-laws in Minnesota for Thanksgiving. But I mean in my house, close to me. Of course I have a fabulous husband who I am crazy about. At the moment he is spending a couple days a week deer hunting, which leaves me lots of alone time during the holidays, and I miss him. I know so many young moms would love to have a few days alone, so I try to revel in that sometimes. Plenty of me-time is one of the luxuries of having a very, very small family made up of two adults. Yippee.

To get through this period where everything in our culture is focused on getting together with family, I have been focusing upward and less inward, which has helped greatly. I know that God knows I am hurting, and he has a great plan for my life without kids. I am coming closer and closer to trusting Him and leaning on him for my fulfillment. He wants me to be joyful in my life! My favorite bible verse lately is from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I wake up and think this phrase first to get a good mindset for the day, rather than thinking about how I don’t have a family around me for the holidays.

I was in a store the other day, spending entirely too much time on picking out my husband’s gifts, and I saw a woman in a wheelchair shopping with her caregiver and her canine helper. I said hello and commented on her lovely dog, and she gave me a great smile back. For a moment I realized that while I may be sad about my life circumstance, at least I’m not in a wheel chair, requiring a caregiver, unable to communicate. And she was able to flash me a great smile! So what am I whining about? Rejoice and be glad already.

I thought I was really making some personal progress this year and was really glad I was more joyful than in months past. Unfortunately, another funk started when I went to the OB/GYN for a follow up pap smear. (Side note: I am switching to a GYN as I really can’t handle the OB part of this practice anymore with all the happy families in the waiting room. I feel like I don’t belong as I’m not trying to get pregnant, am not pregnant, and don’t have kids in tow. But I digress.) I am now on my third doctor visit: two paps and now a biopsy (I pray things will be fine, I’ve had this before). The biopsy caused two reactions: One, I got dizzy. Two, the rush of whatever happened to my system (vasovagal response?) made me hypersensitive to the fact that I had just had a chunk of tissue removed from my largely cobwebbed uterus, and maybe it was time to just take it out of my body. Should the lab results come back with any problems, that is what will happen anyway. Why keep the thing if I have to worry every year about it becoming cancerous? It already is riddled with over 25 fibroids (they stop counting at 25). I think lack of use caused my uterus to get obsessive about its biological clock and spontaneously grow things anyway– but in this case fibroids don’t say cute things when they turn three. They just make me have to go to the bathroom all the time.

So, I started crying in the doctor’s office and now I’m back in this “poor me” syndrome. We started some new traditions this year that I hope will help me out of it. One: don’t go to Texas or Minnesota for the week of Christmas. Instead, enjoy time at home with my husband, friends and my church’s service. Two, invite folks over to take my mind off myself. I planned a Christmas day brunch this year, and planning a menu and having people to cook for is a welcome distraction. I sent out an Evite, and while I knew most of my peeps would have family commitments, it stung when the declines read “Sorry, I have family in town,” or “Sorry, I will be spending time with my family that day.” What these folks don’t realize is that they are my family. I was trying to plan a similar dinner a few years ago with what I thought were very dear friends. I started proposing dates for a simple potluck in November. No one would commit and in early December, one of my friends said that she would be too busy with family that entire month and maybe we should all get together in January. My other friend agreed. I don’t think they realized that this dinner was a highlight of my season, while it wasn’t on Christmas day, I was so looking forward to spending time with these friends (and their husbands) as part of my holiday celebration.

I’ve got a hodge-podge of folks coming over for brunch, and think it will always be a random group if I keep it up as a tradition. While hubby is out of town hunting this week, I am getting ready for company and making all my favorite recipes my mom used to make – pumpkin bread, fudge, sausage balls, pull apart coffee cake, and a tree made out of cinnamon rolls. I’ve been missing my mom this week (she passed away almost 5 years ago) and hoped making these favorites would comfort me and would help me continue my childhood traditions this Christmas. It has, but it has also made me grieve the loss of having my mom to talk to and, as my Dad has remarried, how I no longer have my original family to go back to. I know things change in life, but sometimes I feel a little lost.

I am still a little slow on the draw, but I know now that I need to look upward when I feel lost. That God is my father and He is all I need. That He has a plan for me and wants me to rejoice, for today is the day the Lord has made.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Childless in Church

A friend of mine asked if I noticed how hard it was to relate to most of the women in church - the majority of whom are mothers. I agreed, but thought I was the only one that was the odd one out! I am getting more and more used to being the only one in the circle who is chidless, but I am realizing I will never get over it.

My friend is going to see if she can get a women's small group started for women who don't have children, and I hope she is successful. I don't think the focus will be to provide a support group or to talk about being childless (I hope not, I am in ostrich mode now trying to not think about it). Instead, I think it would be good to get women in a more similar life situation together to praise God and enjoy doing a bible study together...and through that we will find compassion, understanding and a little more sensitivity to our situation.

After our talk, she sent me the article below. I hope you enjoy the point of view and the links!

Is There a Place for You in Your Church?

By John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter

We are thankful that churches and pastors are becoming sensitive to the hurting childless couples in their pews. A number of churches sponsor TTC Groups (trying-to conceive support groups), and pastors are reaching out to couples who have suffered pregnancy loss. Praise God!

Nevertheless, being part of the church is not easy for those who have not been blessed with the pitter-patter of little feet. Consider the following:

One Mother’s Day at church, as usual, the pastor asked everyone who was a mother to stand up, and then the congregation loudly applauded these fine individuals (of whom I was not one.) This hurt so badly I could barely contain myself.

I feel apart from the other women in our church, who are my age. All of them are moms! Even at church, a place where I always felt I “belonged,” I really feel “out on my own.”

Whether the need is for nursery helpers, Sunday school teachers, or youth sponsors, I am constantly being asked to help. After all, I have the time, right? Besides, it will give me time to be with children, right? I hate to say no, but being with children right now is just too painful—it reminds me too deeply of my loss.

I used to enjoy the women’s Bible study group at church, but now I dread it. All they do is talk about their children and grandchildren. I feel out of it.

The above suggests that many childless couples feel like second class citizens. The church—which should be a place of healing and community—too often becomes a place in which infertile couples are wounded and alone.

What can we do to help our churches become places where childless couples can say, “This is where I can belong and grow strong.” Here are some suggestions:

1. Keep your expectations realistic. Not every one in your church will recognize the depth of pain caused by infertility. To expect that all will “get it” only sets you up for continual disappointment.

Try to find one or two other people in your congregation who understand. Encourage them to pray for you, as you promise to pray for them (after all, everyone faces some kind of challenge.)

2. Make your pastor an ally. Most pastors work hard to provide Christ-centered support for people in crisis. But even the most sensitive pastor may not be able to give much support to infertile couples without two things you can supply: encouragement and information.

3. Publish an article in your church newsletter. Most churches have a monthly newsletter filled with news and information about the church. The editor is probably looking for articles to include. The following article by Catherine Ward – Long, Married Without Children: Four Ways Churches Can Incorporate Childless Women, is an excellent piece to submit. You have full permission from Stepping Stones and the author to reprint this article in your church newsletter. If you want an email version to reprint, write us at Stepping Stones (

Unless pastors have personal experience with infertility, they may not think much about the infertile couples in your church – until someone encourages them to do so. Perhaps you are that someone! Remind your pastor that when childless couples hear their needs brought before God in prayer, they’ll never forget it. Conversely, if the needs of the childless are never mentioned, they’ll never forget that, either! As one church member puts it,

“Thankfully, our church is learning to reach out to those hurting while still honoring mothers. We are so grateful that in recent years our pastor has always prayed for those waiting on the Lord to make them someone’s mommy.” This acknowledgement means more to us that anything anyone has ever said.

4. Learn to say no without feeling guilty. Whether they need nursery helpers, Sunday school teachers, or youth sponsors, churches often tend to ask infertile couples to help. After all, you have the time, right! Besides, it will give you an opportunity to be with children!

If helping your church nursery is too painful, don’t feel guilty about politely declining. Consider volunteering for another area of service in the church instead. If attending a women’s Bible study is difficult because the topic always seems to revolve around parenting, find a study where the focus is broader. Remember that even Jesus sometimes said no to the demands of others in order to take care of Himself physically and spiritually (see Luke 5:15-16.)

5. Remember your greatest resource. The church is made up of people, and people can sometimes let us down. But “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46:1 NIV.)

Adapted from When the Cradle is Empty by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter (Focus on the Family and Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Looking forward to 2009

It has been a long time since I have had the energy to post here – for three reasons.

First, I got a new job in February after a few months on “hiatus.” I went from working for 15 years for one company (moving forward through several positions) to working for 3 companies in 3 years (and lots of contract jobs along the way). I have gone back to work for a big corporation, mainly for all the benefits that come with a salaried position. More on that later, but in a nutshell I am now in a position that is challenging and I work with people that appreciate my skills and are fun to be around. I’m in a much better place now and feel like I am free to enjoy my work and I am set up to be successful – this is good. Of course, this requires just a little over 40 hours a week, but it is manageable.

Second, I began my term this year leading a women’s alumnae organization. Many of you do not have to read any further to know how difficult this role is (I saw you roll your eyes!). I’m thinking of forming a “Recovering Presidents Society;” let me know if you’d like to join RPS. I fought taking on the role last year and tried to get out of it when I got a glimpse of whom I’d be working with, but when I realized there was no second string, I just dug in and decided to not give up. Imagine leading a team of women with strong personalities, work-focused MBA graduates and most without children. Now imagine a mission-focused detail-oriented leader, used to succeeding in a mixed work environment (males and females), experienced at the mission at hand (which was basically fund raising and event planning), leading volunteers who are new to their roles and who may not react kindly to input from others. As the year went on, the hours consumed any spare time I had. We raised more funding than we had before, cut expenses and knocked down a looming deficit, and had many very successful events – mission accomplished. However, some conflicts ensued and while the year turned out great, the bitter taste is taking a long time to go away.

Women act differently when they are working exclusively with women. I’ve seen it before in women’s organizations like this one, and even in an all-female company that I once worked for. Women in this environment become more critical, more prone to attack personalities and not situations, and lose the concept of managerial norms that you have in corporations (no S.T.A.R. feedback here!). Having all the work done at night after hours in email doesn’t help, and stress happens. One particular board member is very much like Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie – and after a few threatening attacks from her as if she was a teenage bully, I feel like I am in recovery with PTSD; I’m not kidding. And, sadly, I probably won’t lend my support to another women’s organization any time soon.

I had brunch recently with another leader of another large women’s alliance in town. We both had similar roles this year and I wanted to see if her year fared any better. She resigned after four months. She said she could not handle the women not willing to step out and make a decision themselves, but wanting to collaborate on every decision so that small details took much too long to accomplish due to management by committee. She had other comments too on what happens when a group is made up entirely of women, but in a nutshell her comment was “It is no wonder that women are not advancing in corporate America at the same rate as men. The problems we are bemoaning are our own faults in leadership.” That was a bombshell to me, but honestly I have read this over and over again in articles about working women. As for me, I will continue to mentor other women individually and will crusade for women to be better leaders in my immediate corporate or community surroundings, but that is about it. After spending 5 years in this women’s organization, someone else can carry the baton. Nellie is actually picking it up from here, and more power to her. I think she’ll have a different perspective on leadership this time next year.

Third - obviously, I’ve successfully immersed myself in work round the clock (thus little time to post to a blog) and gained little. I’ve missed out on enjoying many things this year and have let work habits eclipse my health and my happiness. This is something I will not do in 2009. I believe that having a balanced life at all times is a myth, but you must constantly devote time to growing in one of four areas: intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I did grow spiritually this year – and thank God for that or I wouldn’t have made it through. I spent lots of time on intellectual as I always do, but in 2009 I am going to focus on improving the quality of my life emotionally and physically.

Plus, I’ve been dealing with not having kids, and I have some good news to report – some other time. Right now, I need to turn off my brain, enjoy making dinner with my husband and settle down to watch Desperate Housewives.

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.