Thursday, December 28, 2006
On Christmas Eve my husband and I visited with his stepsister who was in town with her beau from Vegas while the other aunts and uncles entertained the boys. My tolerance for the boys is very low, mostly because I get tired of orbiting them with the rest of the world and once in awhile would like to focus on something else. The boys spent the evening telling people to be quiet so they could tell their stories or sing their songs (which was fine once in awhile, but everyone was expected to stop midsentence; if you didn't, you were reprimanded by Mom). Once, when the oldest landed at our table and was offended that the grown-up conversation didn't come to a complete halt, I let him know that Uncles A and D were in the middle of something, and when they finished their thoughts we could listen to him. I told him it wasn't polite to interrupt and got glared at. When the middle child walked, without knocking, into the bathroom while I was in there (thankfully on my way out), I nicely told him he should knock before opening a closed bathroom door. Another glare from Mom.
I'm going to interject with something here: I know that it is a complete faux pas to discipline someone else's child. I gave them no consequences. I didn't make them apologize. I didn't tell them to go away. I didn't yell. I simply stated the facts: It's not polite to interrupt when someone's speaking, and it's not polite to open the bathroom door (that had no lock) without knocking. The problem, if you haven't gotten it yet, is that I told these boys that something they did was unacceptable. In essence, I told them "no", and we don't do that with these boys. Nosiree...
So as the evening goes on, I see more evidence that these boys OWN their mother, their aunts & uncles, their grandparents. "Can I have some cake [even though I just had four cookies and Uncle Brett snuck me a piece of cake already?]" Suuuuuure! "Can I play with this? [read: can we open and assemble the Mouse Trap game, punching out all the little pieces and spending a half-hour building it even though we have to leave soon and it would make much more sense to open it at home and besides, there are two dozen OTHER toys already open and strewn about.]" Of course! Anything for you kids! Sometimes a good healthy "no" is all you have to say. They probably would have accepted it after a moment and moved on to something else, but we don't tell these kids "no". Nosiree.
They wouldn't have immediately accepted the "no", though. Because "no" doesn't mean "no"; "no" means a couple different things. It means "go ask someone else... maybe Uncle Brett because he's a pushover, or maybe Daddy because he can't handle even the mildest temper tantrum". It means "these people are boring and they don't love me because they won't give me everything I want". It means "how dare you defy me! I control the universe and I *always* get what I want... MOMMYYYYYYYY!"
So many parents teach their kids that they are infallable, that the world revolves around them and anyone who tells them differently couldn't possibly love them.
This isn't so much a rant about children -- they only know what they are taught -- but about parents. I can appreciate that sometimes it's just easier, especially in a very social situation, to say "yes" to everything in order to placate the children. It simply made me ill to see how the adults around let the children control the entire evening so completely, how they looked at anyone who dared tell them otherwise like we were horrible, because "it's Christmas!"
I really, really hope that their mother doesn't allow them to control their house like that at home. Somehow, I doubt that anything is different in their own home.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I find it intriguing that if a mother was asked to define herself, no one would question if "I'm a mom" came early on in the description, or even it was the beginning, middle and end of the description. Certainly, if you ask someone to tell you about themselves many parents will start in telling you about their family. If a mother were to omit the word "mom" from her description, she might be ridiculed or at least looked at with concern. I would reckon a fair number of mothers would say "yes, being a mother is something that defines who I am."
Conversely, if I say that being childless (or childfree, as I prefer) is something that defines who I am, I get a very different reaction. It has been implied more than once that my identification with "the childfree community" (as opposed to the parenting community?) was a symptom of a greater "problem". Why couldn't I just be childfree; why did I feel the need to belong to some elitist society? Clearly I must be overcompensating for something.
To even ask such a question is to imply that there's something wrong with it. Do I define myself by my childlessness?
No. Of course not.
However, it is a huge part of who I am, in part because so many people my age and older define themselves by their parenting status. "Jenny, mother of two" you'll see as a caption in a magazine. "Carrie, a single mom..." "Bryan, a single dad..." Look at the descriptions people write about themselves in journals, on MySpace. Parenting status has become a sort of status symbol, perhaps not in that parents are revered more than childless folk (though they often are), but my point is that if one finds out I have no children, the question of "why" always lingers, either as the elephant in the room or with a direct question. I'm not sure I've ever had this fact simply accepted and dropped.
But unlike parents, I don't announce my status immediately. If I get to know someone, a coworker for instance, and they seem like they'll be open to the idea, I will enter a dialogue about it -- because it's never as simple as saying "I'm childfree by choice." If it comes up naturally, that's great. When I'm asked directly, I will answer truthfully, but it inevitably opens a can of worms.
My childfree-ness is a fact of life. Just as a mother might look at a toddler in a store and have a reaction, I do as well. Either I look at a cute kid and say to myself "I'm not going to have one of those and that's okay", or I look at something the child is doing -- sometimes simply the omnipresence of a child, other times a particular action -- and think "my god, that would drive me nuts." While many women flock to a pregnant belly and beg to touch it, I get squeamish. Same with tiny little babies. Like mothers and wannabe mothers, I react when I see children; I just react differently. It's normal. I am reminded of my choice constantly, and that's okay.
There's nothing wrong with our childfree-ness being part of what defines who we are. There is one thing I think we all have in common though: while it is a part of who we are, we will always remain our own person. When you ask me who I am, I will never have a one-word answer. I will never ever be, as I've seen so many women refer to themselves, "just a mom."
I am creative.
I am a graphic artist.
I am a wife.
I am a spiritual being.
I am childfree.
I am many things.
...being childfree is merely one of them.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
So in this advice column, a writer says, "I am offering flex-time to female employees, but I'm afraid that the men are being adversely affected." The woman giving advice states that she assumes that she's giving the flex-time to working mothers, in which case the writer should also give the same to fathers who are primary caregivers. If the employees without small children have an issue with it, the writer is advised to meet with them to "find out the root cause of their discontent." This really, really bothered me. The insinuation is that the discontent couldn't possibly be because parents are given a flexibility they're not. No no no no no, there must be some other underlying problem. Because I already had a letter to the editor printed in the magazine this month, I have chosen not to write to the editor again, but I'm hoping someone else will.
One reason I'm so frustrated with this is that I've seen this happen recently with my mother. She has worked with her firm for nearly a decade, managing a number of clients who have flat-out refused to work with anyone other than her and have pledged to take their business elsewhere when she leaves. She is an invaluable "cog in the machine", as it were, for the company. For the last three years, she has been pleading to go to a four-day workweek. She's there at least 10 hours a day anyway and spends entirely too much time working from home as well; she feels that she has earned this. Time and again they have said no. Recently, a new employee has made the same request, and her bosses have honored it. Why? Because she adopted a new baby and "needs extra time to bond".
Nevermind that my mother may as well be singlehandedly raising my niece and has been doing so for nearly 8 years; that doesn't matter. Because this new woman has a baby, she gets the right to the flex-time. It's completely unfair.
Rules like this should be universal; either you have them for everyone, or no one gets the rights. Too many times I've been the one who picks up the slack for the mothers and fathers who leave early for the events of parenthood; school functions, parents' day, and I'm often the only one who's productive on "bring your child to work day". Yet when I have an event that requires leaving early it's either a request that's granted reluctantly or not at all, which means I end up being forced to lie (embellish the situation -- it's not just a day off, I'm in a friend's wedding! -- or call in sick when I'm not) or face missing an event I consider every bit as important as little Jaime's parent-teacher conference.
I'm tired of the inequity, of parents getting preferrential treatment. So often I see the parents being allowed to work from home when staying with a sick child, when I know that I couldn't work from home instead of calling in sick myself on a day when I'm too ill to be braving the train and the walk to work but could probably make it through my design work and my phone meetings just fine. They leave work early, they come in late because of children's illnesses, late schoolbuses, school injuries, or snow days. But if the childless and childfree are late, it's unacceptable.
"The root of our discontent" should be obvious, and to imply that it must be something other than being treated differently that our parenting counterparts is insulting.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I’ve noticed throughout my years of journaling that I tend to fall into the same rut; when I’m stressed, need to vent or some other outlet for pain, aggression, frustration, I journal. When I’m content or – gods forbid – happy, I don’t find the need to journal as much. That is the rut I’m afraid to fall into with
$75. $25 for each nephew. In most situations, I would have no problem spending this money, and in the past I never have. This year, like any other, I was sent a Christmas list for our nephews, but this year it had a twist: assigned gifts. That’s right, folks, Mom picked out what each aunt/uncle combo should buy for her boys. Way to take the creativity – the thing I find fun about gift giving – and dump it down the drain. What did my husband and I get? Bathrobes (not fleece) – seriously, where do they make non-fleece robes for kids, and what fun is that? Way to give us the gift that they toss aside saying “Auntie T & Uncle A are BO-RING”. Oh, and slippers. WHATEVER.
So instead, I got each kid a $25 Toys ‘R’ Us gift card, with which they can buy whatever they want. But I know what’s going to happen: Mom’s going to keep the cards, maybe buy a small gift for each kid, then keep the rest around for friends’ birthday gifts, etc. As someone who takes great pride in the gifts I choose, this regimented approach sickens me and takes the joy out of the whole situation. Mom’s a control freak for sure – always has been – but this was over the top and I can’t decide if I should confront her about it in addition to my civil disobedience.
Enter my niece, who had the most adorable list ever. She is nearly eight years old and thought very hard about her list. New pencils (cool ones), pink erasers (they work the best), construction paper, crafty things, dangly earrings and – the big gift – moon sand, some sort of crafty clay. This was her list, and she was so proud of her list, and then my 12-year-old cousin got hold of her. “Don’t you want this Bratz DVD? What about a new Barbie house? The Hanna Montana CD? New games for your Nintendo DS (that Daddy plays with more than she does)” She listed all these things (peer pressure!), but nothing makes my niece happier than sitting at a table with some paper, glue, markers and scissors; well, except maybe a pencil to write and her imagination. It kills me to see everyone (her daddy included – he likes buying her things he can play with when she gets bored) pressuring her to ask for bigger and more expensive things when all she really wants to do is craft and draw and write. Oh, and she wants to learn to knit.
What stinks about this is that I’m going to get her some earrings I bought in a lot on Ebay, some cool pencils and pink erasers, and my brother, her Daddy, will treat me like I skimped on her gift, when in reality I got her what she really wanted.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Relationships fail. What seemed a good idea at one time can later feel like a huge mistake; it’s a fact of life.
In recent months I’ve seen several long-term relationships break up; one an engagement that, in hindsight we say “thank god the wedding never happened” to a match that wasn’t as wonderful as we all thought; the other a 10-year marriage stressed by years of law school and living a state away from each other. In the case of the engagement, I was devastated for them, but after she was blindsided with the break-up, I learned things about the relationship that made me glad it never got to that point. In the case of the marriage, I never really understood their relationship. Even before our friend’s wife went away to law school, they never seemed very close, very in love, and my husband, who stood up in the wedding, said the same. They didn’t seem to have what he and I have. And while it’s a hurtful thing to watch friends go through, in both cases I feel it’s for the better. Like my own first marriage, neither relationship bore any children, so the break-ups, while of course painful, were largely uncomplicated.
Enter another relationship in crisis: married for 7 years, two children, both people wholly unhappy. Husband owns and runs a videogame studio startup that’s gaining success. A textbook workaholic, he’s spent the last 7 years building his reputation in the industry through long, long hours, finishing his master’s degree, and being married to his job.
An anonymous commenter on this blog made the argument that childfree marriages are less happy than ones with children because the divorce rate is slightly higher for childless couples. But I have to wonder, especially seeing what my friends are going through: how many of those marriages with kids are horrifically unhappy, but the parents are staying together “for the kids”? I know that was the case with my parents; my mom would never have even married my father if she didn’t get knocked up with me. And it's absolutely the case for several family members. Of course many are happy, but I think the assumption that marriages that don’t break up are happy marriages is wishful thinking.
I’m sad to see it come to this for all these couples, because I don’t want the people I care about to hurt. But when my friend says things like “I think marrying him was a mistake”, which, by extension means having children with him was a mistake (quite a different thought than wishing your children weren’t born)… that makes me so unbelievably sad.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
It was interesting, and I found myself saying that "yeah, if we change our minds, I can do this", thinking an older child would save the trouble of younger kids, which is the main part of childrearing that I am not equipped to handle.
But then I read their descriptions. Behavioral disabilities, learning diabilities – I've long thought that I'd never be able to deal with a child who wasn't smart. And these were the "special ordered" kids I chose when I went through the checklist. I took out kids with physical and developmental disabilities completely. I found myself looking at what the future would hold for a kid like this. What if they weren't equipped for college, ending up like my brother? Bad decision-making skills run with the men in my family, but I can't imagine raising a child like my brother — 28, living at home with his daughter, no follow-through skills, no ambition… I would lose my mind in my mom's position. While I know many of these kids just need a loving home to turn them around, how many of them have wounds that go so deep that there would be a lifetime of self-sufficiency issues? It sends shivers down my spine.
As I found myself picking and choosing the kids that would be acceptable, I remembered a big reason why we don't want to do this: it's a crap-shoot. What if we ended up with a child with a temperament like our middle nephew, with a "sensory disorder" and ADHD? Or a girl like my cousin with a major learning disability so that she's at the same reading level, in the 7th grade, as my 7-year-old niece. Of course we could potentially get lucky enough to get a kid like C, or my best friend's first son (jury's still out on the baby!)… but who knows!
The times when I feel that maybe I could handle kids, it's always a best case scenario. 100% of the time I think handling one of the aforementioned "bad seeds" (god that's mean) and all it does it reinforce that I don't want to do that. It actually starts happening even when one of the good kids starts acting up, and again the 24/7-ness is a dealbreaker.
But my point is, when I found myself picking and choosing the elements in a potential kid (7-11 years old, minor emotional or behavioral issues, zero physical, developmental or learning issues) I realized that only under those circumstances could childrearing be for us. I still think a foster child would be the best bet for us if we did decide to do this, but I'm not sure we'd be able to get over the potential issues.
My friends who are looking into this are much more prepared for this reality than we are. They've been fostering traumatized greyhounds for years and while it's not the same, it's definitely a stepping stone. She is also an ex-foster kid (one who turned out okay), so she knows more about the system than most. I don't know how someone could look at that list and say "I can do this" when hearing about the kid who has trouble with animals, or has violence issues. The poor kids… thank the gods there are people who can do this. I guess my heart's just not big enough for that.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
"No, we're having a baby."
"But we're still going to have lots of sex."
"No, we're having a baby."
When this conversation went on between Turk and Carla on Scrubs, it resonated. I recalled when a friend had a baby and their sex life stalled immediately. The reason? Her husband didn't think of her as his lover, his wife, even a woman; she was a mother, and mothers aren't sexy.
This was a difficult one for me, because while she did embrace the Mom role totally and completely (I do think it consumed her), I know there were a lot of other things that contributed to their relationship problems after their first son was born. But aside from their sitaution, more and more often I hear about this happening.
I've heard it from both ends, and with a number of excuses. They see their partner as a mother/father and it's just not sexy. There's so much closeness with a new baby that the intimacy once shared with a partner is not important. Time time time time time, there's just no time.
It's so sad that it comes to that so often. Nothing is the same after a baby comes into a relationship, especially the relationship itself. People who choose to have a child sometimes claim that's not the case, but I don't think it's so much that things didn't change; I think it's that the couple decided the changes that would come with the baby were worth the sacrifice or change. And obviously, the intimate relationship is not the only thing that experiences a dramatic change when the baby enters the picture.
"It doesn't feel like a sacrifice," my friend will tell me. "I just don't want to do those things anymore." But the thing is, we aren't interested in giving up our vacations, our weekends, our evenings, our snuggle time, our intimate time, or any of the things that you trade for the love of a child. It's worth it for many people and it's the right choice for many people. It's not the right choice for us.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Every year we go camping with a variety of couples. There's about 20 of us (about 8 couples, a few single folk) that shuffle in and out of who's coming and going, but there's a core of probably 5 couples who always seem to go. We're not close with them the rest of the year, but they're our camping friends, and it's a great bond. We get a big group site up in Northern Wisconsin and we go for the weekend. We drink around the campfire, we swim in the nasty algae-infested lake to stay cool, we stay up super late and make gourmet food over flame, we play bocce and Scrabble and read and hike. It's a blast.
The centerpiece couples, the ones who do all the work organizing, are having babies; one is pregnant, the other trying foster care after infertility. I suspect a third couple will be trying soon if they aren't already, and a fourth already has to miss out on most outings because they don't like to leave their boys for an entire weekend. The face of our friends, at least that group of friends, is changing. And while we're lucky it's changing while we and our friends are all in our 30s (at 29 I'm the baby of that group, it would seem), it's still odd to see it changing.
When I was growing up, camping was a part of life; it still is for my parents and my niece C. I think camping can be a great experience for kids, but it's no place for babies or young toddlers, for certain, and the atmosphere we have when camping — drinking, swearing, being grown-ups — isn't exactly kid-friendly. It's one of the things my husband and I like about it. We went camping with my parents and C last summer and we spent the entire time entertaining her and making sure she didn't go somewhere alone, or get too close to the fire. Oh, we had fun with her of course, but we put our foot down when she wanted to stay in our tent with us because we SO needed that quiet time.
I like camping with our camping friends because it doesn't feel like those family camping trips. It's something else altogether. I think this year, since babies and pregnancies are going to get in the way, we'll start planning to camp with a different group of friends. Maybe we'll see these folk out in the clubs when we go up to Wisconsin, but they'll probably fade into parenthood oblivion. We'll keep in contact but not in touch via LiveJournals and MySpaces. But I think the days of us hanging out with that crowd are numbered. I'm sad to lose them, but in reality I know that they're no longer going to be the people they once were.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Overall, though, dinner was not offensive. It was on the drive home, the hour long drive home, with my husband's grandma yammering on in the back seat while A slept. She talked and talked and talked the whole way.
It was awkward, yes, but then, only minutes from home, she said the thing that I can't get out of my mind: She started talking about her son's first wife, "that horrible woman".
"I was so glad when she got that marriage annulled, even though it took him years to get over it." She paused, took a deep breath, and said, "She didn't want to have children, that horrible woman."
I wish I believed that there were other reasons that she called her "that horrible woman", that the main reason she said she was horrible was because she broke her son's heart and this was just icing. I wish I was imagining the disdain in her voice, that I had a recording to combat all the people who think I heard it that way because I'm a drama queen and reading too much into things. I wish I could convey how my stomach sank through the floor of the car and splattered all over the road, and I felt about two inches tall and wanted to just cry, the words stung so much. "That horrible woman."
It matters to me what she thinks, even though I know it makes her mean and intolerant and narrowminded and Catholic. It doesn't make the words sting any less. My best friend thinks she might have been trying to bait me, that she heard rumours from the stepsisters whom I've hinted to that we weren't interested in kids and wanted to see my reaction. Who knows.
I have to wonder how she feels about the fact that they chose not to adopt after his second wife's inability to complete a pregnancy, after, from what I've heard, stillbirths out of horror movies and countless miscarriages. I wonder if that makes them horrible in their eyes, if she thinks less of them for making that choice, even after all they went through.
I know I'm not horrible, but the words still hurt.
Monday, November 13, 2006
A look at the blogs of other childfree women, of childfree advocacy groups, and articles about them… A look at these reminds me that I'm not alone.
That is the answer then: too much time spent in a world where I don't belong, among the clucky, the childLESS, the parents. It's not my world, and that's why I was feeling so empty.
It all makes so much sense now.
The main character in my novel is a childfree woman, about my age. My inspiration for her was my friend's cousin Shereen, who was the oldest left in the house of 9 kids and spent much of her teenagehood caring for babies, toddlers and kids. When she moved out, she continued to babysit, remaining very close with her siblings. She married and has told her family, who is furious with her, that she intends on having no children, that she's done raising kids and wants to do something different.
While I'm picking influence from Shereen's life, a lot of encounters my character has, good and bad, are coming from my own experiences. The supporters are there, but so are the people who are less supportive. I just got done reliving the bizarre coffeeshop incident from last summer ('05), and I'm feeling very emotional about it.
I was meeting Jeanine for coffee. We sat on the patio and were talking. I mentioned the incident where A and I were at his grandmother's house the night before and she kept talking about "when the baby comes", and how uncomfortable that made me. I talked about his family, how uncomfortable the idea of talking to them about the whole childfree thing made me, etc.
A woman, in her late 30s I would later find out, two tables over came over and interrupted our conversation, giving me the third degree about why I wouldn't want children. I'm all about opening a dialogue about the issue, and she started off innocently enough, so I engaged her; big mistake. She badgered and pushed, asking all sorts of inappropriate questions, insisting that I would regret the decision. "How old are you, like 24?" 27, I corrected her. "Oh, so maybe you'll have kids when you're like 32?" No, I said. "But you'll probably change your mind." No matter what I said, she wouldn't leave me alone (and didn't) until I said "fine, I'll probably change my mind." As soon as I said that, she backed off and went back to her table, no exaggeration, and I was sick about it. By now I was near tears on the inside, but I kept putting up this front like it was okay. Weird, but okay. But it wasn't okay. I never really talked about it, like talked about it talked about it, with anyone, but it tore me up inside that what I was saying was so offensive to a complete stranger that she would commit a social faux pas, not even pretending to make honest, friendly conversation and just launch right into it, with a couple of girls who were just sharing stories over coffee. It made me feel so small, so freakish, so weird and broken.
I knew I was working up to this in my novella, but after writing it I'm just feeling all those emotions again.
After reliving it through the eyes of my character, along with the other incidents she's experiencing: being chastised at work for not wanting to hold random-woman-in-another-department's newborn son; being told repeatedly that I would never know what happiness was, that my life would be empty without children; that I didn't know what I was talking about, that things would change when I got married; the pregnancy test that was thankfully negative being greeting with comments of "that's ok, you'll get pregnant sometime, don't worry"; being accused time and again of being a childhater, while others assumed that affection for a child meant that I must want children of my own; people implying insensitivity because I was "wasting" a perfectly good uterus when others out there so desperately want a child; words like selfish, heartless, silly, misguided, being tossed about like grenades; people saying the wrong things while trying to be supportive; others just not getting it or telling me it's just a phase; people accusing me of being melodramatic about the whole thing, or implying that my pain over it meant that I was internally conflicted or something. I can deal with it case by case, but as I've been writing it's just sort of come all at once.
I was rereading the story and seeing how sad my character is, how depressed, and I wondered "is that me?" The only answer I could come up with was yes, and that's really, really… well, sad, quite frankly. And I'm not sad because I don't want children, or because secretly I *do* want children and I'm trying to be part of some club or something, which has been implied. I'm sad because so many people have treated me like shit, made me feel like a broken freak because I don't and I just want to feel like I can be myself.
I don't really have much to say other than that. If you have made commentary like that, it's okay, you didn't know, and I'm not angry, and NO this IS NOT some passive aggressive attempt at getting my anger out at anybody (most of the offenders were random, not friends, anyway, and if you're reading this I consider you a friend and supporter). I'm just feeling worn down. Too much emotion, and at the tail end of a bad day.
And yet I want to keep writing.
Friday, November 10, 2006
1) Reading too much about infertile women, and miscarriage stories to ensure I do right by one of my characters
2) Too many friends announcing pregnancies, births, and feeling like my "congratulations" are considered suspect
3) Reading too much about clucky girls and women, who want babies desperately
It's hard to describe the sensations in my body, and part of me wonders if this is akin to the biological urge that so many women give into without consideration. I don't want to say it's the "my body wants a baby" thing, because I've never felt that and I'm really not okay with feeling that, and my brain certainly doesn't want a baby, but yet I've got this uneasiness, noticing babies everywhere — not with desire, merely seeing them. I suspect it's because I've immersed myself in thinking about it and I've been trying to put myself in the mindset of the clucky girls, but I'm incredibly uncomfortable.
I feel like I need to research childfree women who either (a) deny or redirect "maternal" feelings because they know children don't fit into their life for one reason or another, or (b) have a situation where their body wants a baby but they adamantly do not.
Part of me wants to abandon this book because I'm feeling so weird. It's got me thinking entirely too much and I really don't like the way I'm feeling. It's like a combination of guilt and terror. I'll freely admit I have an irrational fear of baby rabies; I don't want babies, period, and neither does my husband. I've seen too many people give into the baby rabies, wanting to have a baby but not wanting to raise a child, if that makes sense. And while I don't think that's what it is, whatever the hell it is I want it to go away. I think I'm just getting too close to all the emotion.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
So to all of those who accuse me of being melodramatic, overthinking the issue of telling my in-laws about our childfree-ness…
What he said, to paraphrase:
"I don't blame you for being scared of being disowned, disinherited, any of that. I wouldn't put it past that family. I can tell you exactly what they will do: They will pass judgment, badger and bother you, and then they won't believe you. They'll continue to make comments about 'when the baby comes' and assume that buying a house means babies are imminent."
He agrees that the best approach right now is to not tell them, at least not while we hope to get in on the inheritance/trust fund. Again he suggested feigning infertility which has always been an unsavory idea for me. However, after hearing him say it, he who knows that family so well, I'm starting to think why the hell not, if we have to do it, and I'm considering talking to my mom and ensuring that, if she speaks with my in-laws we have the story straight.
I probably will go with the truth when the time is right, but early introductions of the topic to the in-laws has not gone so well. Who knows what we'll finally decide to do. Regardless, it feels good to know that someone who is qualified, who does know the situation, supports me on it, even if a dozen strangers tell me to get over myself and that it's none of their business. And that is empowering.
It's nice to feel empowered for a change.
Monday, November 06, 2006
I liked Studio 60 from the moment I saw it for no other reason than it's smart TV, and smart TV on network has been such a rarity. I never thought I'd see a smart show portraying a likable childfree character. Well, at least *I* like her.
For a bit of background, Studio 60 centers around the behind-the-scenes of a Saturday Night Live-style sketch comedy show and the network that's struggling to reinvent itself. The show is brilliant, and as someone without cable, an unbelievably welcome addition after Heroes, the other best show on TV right now. But I digress…
A couple weeks ago, they showed a sketch called "Jenny Doesn't Have a Baby", which made me laugh hysterically while a couple of moms badgered a childless Lauren Graham about how she wasn't a real woman, couldn't know what joy was, and would lead an empty and incomplete life before inevitably changing her mind about kids because she wasn't getting any younger: a litany of lines we've all heard a thousand times or more.
But it gets better.
Tonight Jordan (Amanda Peete), the controversial new president of the TV station, has been outed in the press as being childfree, disliking kids and said she'd never hire a woman with children. And while I'm not as anti-child as her, I've often wondered, as owner of my own firm, how I would feel about hiring a mom versus a childfree/childless person with all other traits being equal.
Peete's character is going to open a dialogue. And while it remains to be seen how this will be portrayed on the show, Jordan is clearly a strong character; she's charismatic, smart and, while driven, incredibly likable. I am in awe that someone had the guts to start the dialogue with a major character in a new, popular series, and now I can't wait to see how they decide to let this develop.
Monday, October 16, 2006
His children were involved with the decision to take him off the machines, but that was it. Granted, they are not local, but my grandmother's reason for calling them was so they could say goodbye, and no one was interested. No one was interested. The whole situation is being treated by his kids as a horrible inconvenience.
They are annoyed at having their grandmother's health situation put on their plates because my grandmother has no desire to be involved. That poor woman's only living son moved to Florida upon being granted power of attorney over her accounts, abandoning her as an invalid without a nurse. Loren cared for his mother-in-law (MiL) because her own son wouldn't, and his motivations were largely financial. When it began to be clear that, at the very least, he was not going to be able to care for her for an extended period of time, my grandma packed up his MiL's things and brought them to her attorney because Loren's daughter was not interested in caring for her grandmother. "Too busy."
When folks bring up the idea of who will care for me when I'm elderly if I have no children, I wonder what would be worse — going through an illness alone, or going through an illness waiting for someone to care. I wonder how Loren's MiL must feel — her mind is alive, at some level, but her body has withered away. She knows her son has taken her money and abandoned her. She knows her grandchildren won't come see her. She will now know that the only person left in the world who cared about her anymore, whatever his motivation, is dead.
I'm not saying the idea of being alone isn't a concern. But I think it's silly to use that as a way to try to convince someone to have children, especially when I've seen families abandon each other more often than not. My grandmother was the only one of 10 living children who my great-grandmother remembered as Alzheimer's claimed her because she was the only one who saw her regularly. When she became ill, it was as if everyone wrote her off as already dead, resenting the money her nursing home drained from their own incomes.
Some people, like my Gramps or my friend's grandfather who recently passed, are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family who is there 'til the end. And it does give me sadness that I won't experience something like that. But to me it's like someone asking me if I'm sad that I'll never win a Clio award because I'm choosing to get out of high-buck advertising. If I decided to go back to an agency, sure there's the chance I could do great things and I could write an award-winning campaign. But it's a big "what if" that requires a sacrifice that I'm just not interested in making for my life, my marriage, and my happiness.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
I feel emotionally drained. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, just drained.
I've been drained from worrying about the whole situation, wondering how my grandmother is doing (she's unreachable at the hospital, and since he's in critical condition, only she is allowed to see him), wondering how my mom is doing.
A wise woman once told me that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I know why we had him in our lives: he helped my grandmother heal; he was a shoulder to cry on when her mother passed; he helped her realize that it was okay to move out of the house my Gramps built, that she didn't have to live in a tomb of memories; he told her she didn't have to be sad all the time, but it was okay to be sad sometimes; and he loved her. He loved her and gave her someone to love. Of course it wasn't what she had with my Gramps -- one couple in a million gets that chance -- but it was something. It was tender, and it was what she needed, and I think it helped her get past the death of my Gramps and told her that she would survive. What this will do to her, I don't know.
It's easier to rationalize when the death is expected, when there's suffering coming to an end. Death has meaning, then, at least a little. But he wasn't suffering. He had some chest pains and they did bypass surgery just to be sure. When he was under the knife, his kidneys began failing. But the heart surgery was successful! They healed his heart, but then there was the infection. The infection that spread to his blood and now has him on life support. He was fine, though, he wasn't in pain, he wasn't suffering, and now he's dying and I'm just not okay with that! This is perhaps the first death I've been close to that wasn't preceeded by a prolonged period of suffering and at least some sense of relief at the person's passing. This is the first time I'm angry at God. Or the Gods. Or whomever; I'm angry.
I'm angry because we can't tell my seven-year-old niece C that her grandpa (the only one she's known -- she was only 2 when my Gramps passed) isn't suffering anymore because she was just over there recently and he wasn't suffering. Or Breanna, my cousin, who gleefully started calling him "Grandpa" the moment he and my grandma married, which salted my wounds because he wasn't Grandpa. Gramps was. But she adores him. And instead of a "God wanted to end his suffering" explanation, which makes at least a bit of sense, we have to give these girls a "God just thought it was his time" speech, and I don't know if C is ready for that.
I just don't know how to reconcile this.
Then there was the dinner with A's grandma, aunt and uncle. We immediately toasted A's mother, which set her off crying (understandably so), but then, as if to say "your grace period is over!", there was baby talk.
The "grace period" is a period of one year that we were told we wouldn't be "bothered". What "bothered" meant was left up in the air, but it became clear tonight that "bothered" really means "pressure to procreate". Obviously, we can't debut the idea of being childfree as Lil is already so upset because of A's mother...
"What religion are you, anyway? You really should start going to church again. You know, when the kids come, you'll have to make up your mind how you're going to teach them about God."
"So A's going to finish school, then you can retire! ha ha ha."
... "Well, I'm planning on trying to start my own firm!"
To which, his uncle replied (and this is a direct quote): "No no, none of that, we need BABIES here!"
Oh, many a comment was made today about "our kids", about our "late start", etc. It made me sick.
How can we possibly tell these people "sorry, no kids for us"? It's really no wonder that so many people feel pressured to have children. It's an unreal amount of pressure. I've felt it in little jabs here and there, but tonight it was two barrels, right between the eyes, on an evening where I was already emotionally fragile. I'm sick to my stomach even thinking about it.
Not telling them is looking like a better option again. I seriously thought that because his aunt & uncle are childless (after infertility) that they might understand better. They both had high-powered careers and retired at 55, and I thought gee, maybe they'll understand why this is the life we want, but the pressure is on, and it is immense. But to think of going through this for years -- because, really, his grandmother is the one person we really don't feel we can tell, and it's not improbable that she will be around for another decade -- I don't know how to do it.
How do you break someone's heart?
And please, don't tell me that it's none of their business, and it's our lives. I'm well aware of this; if I didn't know this, I would consider having children to appease them and make it stop. I care about these people, I care about what they think, and I care -- I care a lot -- that we are viewed hopefully as the last chance to carry on his family's genes. The last chance to carry on Lil's beloved daughter's genes. That's a lot of fucking pressure. And I feel the pressure because I DO care what they think, and it DOES matter to me that they will be crushed if we tell them we're not having children. While the decision is ours to make, I do not believe it's none of their business. It's their hearts, their hopes; it's them that we will be hurting, and the hurt will be real, and that makes it their business.
So what do I do?
I have no answers.
And yes, it IS this big of a deal. Some of you who have chosen to be childfree have had an easier time of it -- your families are like my parents: they get it -- you have no idea how fortunate you are. To have families that understand and support (even if reluctantly) your decision... When that support is replaced by a constant message that if you don't have children you're going to be destroying someone's hopes and dreams (and I am not exaggerating -- you know this if you have met A's grandmother), it lives in your mind constantly. Every moment you spend talking to that part of the family becomes underscored with dread that the subject will come up again and you'll be forced to either lie or at the very least sugarcoat things. "We're not even thinking about that right now." "Oh, A has to finish school before we can start talking about kids."
If I had this pressure from my family as well, I honestly don't know how I could function.
And as a result, I feel sick, drained, and as if I could cry for an hour. I've been afraid of this grace period coming to an end, of the little here-and-there comments beginning to dominate dinner talk, but I had no idea how much it would hurt me when it did. The white lies to A's dad and his stepsiblings are easier, and it went over well when we started using the word "if" with them. It had me thinking that it wouldn't be that big a deal to start creeping the "if" word into conversations with his grandmother. I WAS WRONG. In her eyes, when she talks about "our kids", you can see it. The hope.
I wish I could say those conversations made me wonder if we're making a mistake deciding to remain childfree. I wish I could just say "you know what, maybe it wouldn't be so bad," but I can't. And a part of me wishes I had some maternal instinct to turn on to make this pain stop. But it's not there. It's not there because it's not ME. It's not US.
I really hope this is my fractured emotional state talking, that these dinners will get better, that we can approach a night with his maternal family without dread.
I don't like how I'm feeling right now. I want the pain to stop. I want to stop being angry at God or whatever for letting him die and leaving my grandma all alone. I want to stop feeling guilty for not wanting children. I just want the pain to stop.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Last night my husband and I joined his family for the rehearsal dinner for his stepbrother's wedding. We had the unfortunate seating arrangement of being surrounded by (a) our nephews, who were tired, cranky and fidgety and (b) the notorious Aunt S (the one who cornered us on the boat at the reunion and spent half an hour on a rant about couples who get married and "waste" too much time having fun before doing what's important -- starting a family -- and how parents who only have one child are horribly selfish), complete with three glasses of wine before we even arrived. Luckily, Aunt S was next to my husband -- I had to help watch and discipline the middle nephew, who adores me but is nonetheless a giant PITA who doesn't listen and is in his mockery stage where he repeats everything anyone says. FUN! But again, I had the easy job.
Aunt S's daughter was getting visibly annoyed by the boys. While she's got a case of the baby rabies herself right now (she recently issued an ultimatum to her husband -- they either start trying in one year or it's divorce), she wants girls and only girls. A houseful of girls. Well, Aunt S taunted her and said "you're going to have all boys," which set her off. It wasn't a pretty scene.
She then asked A, "so when are you two going to start trying?" I was busy wrangling the two oldest nephews when I heard "…if we decide to have kids," followed by Aunt S's loud gasp. "If? DECIDE? What do you mean, IF?" Now, I'm all for being honest and opening up with the family about this, but S +4 (she's quick) glasses of wine is probably NOT the best test case to try this out on. She got very very flustered and only dropped it when her sister (A's stepmom) told her to stop making a scene. She was getting very defensive and A had tried to lighten it with comedy, but she was getting more and more defiant.
A prelude, perhaps? Who knows. S is a big lush and gets very boisterous and opinionated (her opinion = she is right) after the wine starts flowing. (I learned this the hard way at my first Christmas with the family.) I know this conversation with her isn't over (it never is), but maybe it will lead to finally coming out and dealing with the problems.
But at least it's out there. Although we *have* decided for certain, it's probably best to open the discussion with the notion that we're still making up our minds -- give them some time to get used to the idea before we come out and say "we're sure about this".
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Had I been interviewed, I surely would have become the "bad guy" in an article about the "Opt-Out Revolution." The article ended up being about women who return to the workplace after having children, and I can see it now. I can see my quotes about how I've been made to take on extra work, to work extra hours while the people with "real" families went home, being taken in a horrifically negative context. I really want to write the journalist and ask her why she changed the focus of her article. I want to know what questions she'd have asked me if we were able to connect. I want to know what she'd have done with an anecdote about my boss treating my goings on as far less important than the activities of the parents in my creative team, volunteering me to stay late because everyone else had families to go to, and my plans were just with friends and my husband.
It makes me sad that the article took this turn, that perhaps her editors intervened and said "let's make this from a mother's point-of-view because more women can relate to that." Or maybe she's a mother herself, unable to handle talking to childfree women who have chosen to focus on their careers. I'd like to know, but I'm afraid to ask.
I've had this discussion with my parent friends, those who've "opted out" of professional careers. While I'm not in the camp that thinks mothers are "ruining everything" for childfree women, I have felt the discrimination. I've felt self-conscious about letting potential employers know that I'm a newlywed. My previous boss had spoken out and actually said ih he had his way he wouldn't have women who were planning weddings working for him because they spend all their time focusing on the wedding, then as soon as they're done they start having babies, stringing the company along during the maternity leave, then quitting entirely as soon as the baby is born. While this sounds like a heartless thing, it's often very true. It happened with several coworkers throughout my 18 months with the company. I found mysef wondering if I would hire a newlywed, or a new mother, as a business owner myself, because of all the missed work, the inflexible availability that a mother has, and I hate myself for thinking that I might discriminate, even if it were subconsciously.
I do have a problem with parent-friendly rules in the workplace when they don't make equal concessions for people with alternative families -- couples with friends who are family, in my case. Sure, allow flex-time, but allow it for everyone, not just because someone has a sick kid. If I have to take my cat to the vet, allow me the same rights. If my husband is sick and needs someone to help him at home, allow me to work from home if Annie with the sick baby can do the same.
And yet if I suggest things like this, people act as if it's unreasonable to expect these things. I don't appreciate being treated as less deserving than a parent, that my relationships are less valuable, that putting family before work doesn't count if it's managing my close personal relationships that do not involve kids.
All I want is equality, but I fear that if I were to interview for that magazine, or any of the others that might come my way as a result of this blog, that my message will be miscontrued. Do I think that women who choose to leave their careers to raise children are "ruining everything"? It's not a black & white thing, so it's hard to answer.
I once said to my sister-in-law who was quitting her job to raise her kids that I don't believe it's possible to have a full-time career, a happy marriage, and still raise well-adjusted kids. She fired off that it's because companies won't let mothers have the flexibility they need. And while that is true on some sense, it's also true that workplace flexibility needs to be approached not from a parents' rights position, but as a people's rights issue in order to maintain fairness.
Why is that such an inflamatory idea?
Monday, September 25, 2006
I spent my morning being a MySpace voyeur, peeking into the lives of people I went to high school with, or maybe the friends of friends of friends. I came across the profile of a girl I went to high school with -- didn't know her, wasn't her friend, but because I was the yearbook copy editor, I know names, I know faces -- it was my job. So anyway, I recognized her.
Read a bit in her profile, and landed where the "Interests" tag is, where someone would put "I like reading, movies, drawing and animals" or something.
"I used to have a lot of interests. Now my only interests are my 2-year-old son and sleeping. I have no time for anything else."
It just made me really, really sad. I already lack the time to do all the things I want to do -- knit an afghan, make my own renaissance faire costumes, read books, actually complete my NaNoWriMo novel, learn to speak Polish and practice my Spanish, or even keep my own house clean. Another drain on my time would make me miserable.
I would mourn my "interests", my hobbies and passions, if I were her. I'm so glad I'm not.
Friday, September 22, 2006
So instead, I'm going to express my irritation in this journal by posting a list of my own:
PARENT TO CHILD-FREE ETIQUETTE
i.e. "Things you cannot say to me if I can't tell you 'I don't know how you do it' without you getting bent out of shape and thinking I'm insulting you."
1. "You don't know what life is until you have children." Also, "life isn't worth living without children," and "children are the reason we're all here." You're not doing anything but insulting me, telling me my life is worthless. Do you know how it feels to be told your life is worthless? We are happy, we are happy with each other and in our lives.
2. "I didn't think I wanted kids either, until I had my own." I think I speak for much of the childfree community when I say that we believe that if you don't want kids, you have no business having them. It is irresponsible to risk that you might not like it once you have the children, and it's unfair to the children. Not ever woman can be a mom. Not every woman wants to be a mom. Deal with it. Oh, and ditto on "it's different when they're you're own kids."
3. "You're going against God's plan!" This one is up there with the "why did you get married in the first place" commentary. I won't even go into all the reasons this is inappropriate, whatever religion you subscribe to.
4. In a nutshell, comments like "you'll change your mind", "you'll regret it later", and "you don't know what you're missing" are also off-limits.
Ask me questions, be open-minded, open a dialogue with me. I want to talk about it with you, to help you understand my side of the story. But if you enter that conversation with the intention of changing my mind or convincing me that I'm making a horrible mistake, we'll never get anywhere. Understand that this is horribly disrespectful to me.
I promise to never try to convince you that having children was the wrong decision, that you made a huge mistake, or that one day you'll end up regretting your life and wishing you could go back in time and do it over without the kids.
Open a dialogue. Don't lecture. Don't judge.
That's all I ask.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
My husband and I are big snugglers. Every morning we set our alarm for half an hour before we need to get up to build snuggle time into our mornings. It's an important part of our day, ridiculous as it may sound. When we started out four years ago, everyone told us that this part of our relationship would pass, that we wouldn't always want to snuggle up on the sofa, that we'd tire of sleeping wrapped up in each other. But, if anything, we love it even more. It's who we are as a couple.
It didn't take long to see when we stayed at my best friend's house, to see that children make that incredibly difficult, if not impossible. We lay in bed that morning, and even though we had nothing to do with the kids, who were corralled upstairs and away from us, that peace would not come to us and it was time to get up. We had gone out the night before (Grandma babysat the boys), and we only slept for about four hours before the kids were running about, playing with the dog (named "Bob Barker" for a reason). Breakfast came late, after the kids were fed and cleaned up. We weren't even involved in the care of the kids; we were spectators. Yet our day was still dominated by the kids.
The entire weekend, even though we weren't the parents, we were never a couple. We'd snuggle up on the sofa and the oldest, T, would hop in between us. We love when he does that -- I think it's awesome that he's so fond of us even though he so rarely sees us. And we don't miss couple time when T is around. But it's a moment at a time, it's a day, it's not a lifetime. It's a day that we can leave behind us with hugs and an extended goodbye.
My husband and I sat in our car, leaving their house after that goodbye, in the silent car. The car is never silent; we always listen to the radio, a CD, the iPod, something. But whenever we leave a home with children, the first leg of the trip is always silent. It's something we find ourselves craving. We leave, thankful that the life of our friends, or our family, ruled by their children, is not our life.
If we lost our snuggle time watching TV, or if it instead involved a third party, we'd survive. Might even be nice once in awhile. If we didn't have dinner together, at the table, and instead had a kid to concentrate on instead of each other, a kid fighting for one of our attention, we'd manage. And if, instead of laying in bed together, lazily flopping from side to side, switching between snuggler and snugglee, we were instead deciding whose turn it was to tend to the children, it would be okay. I suppose. I say this with a heavy heart because with each potential "what if", I feel sadder and sadder, with an increasing sense of loss.
When people say that a child brings fulfillment, completes a marriage...I don't see that in our case. We fulfill each other. Anything that comes between us, even something that would be, I suppose literally, a little part of each of us, would hurt what we have. I cherish our time together. It's something that many of the couples we know lack, those with and without kids. But we're happy how we are. That's a pretty big thing.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Not at the filmmaker — I think it was very important what he did. It opened my eyes to how great my life really is. We have money in savings, we eat what we want, we never have to wonder where our grocery money is coming from or anything. It's wonderful.
I'm not sure whom I'm mad at, to be honest. There was a point in the show where Morgan ran into a 22-year-old man with four children to support on $7 an hour. Why why WHY don't people think about the cost of having children before they actually do?! I look at our life and I wonder how we would ever manage to put anything at all in savings if we had children to raise, and we're comfortably in the middle class.
Glancing at my credit card statement -- my first one since my credit limit was raised and the first with a significant balance on it thanks to a series of plane tickets for two vacations -- I was horrified to see a $40 interest charge for a single month. No WONDER families are in so much debt! If they don't have the money to buy things, they put it all on credit cards. My minimum payment was $10 less than the interest payment. It was horrific to see -- so horrific that I borrowed from my savings account to pay it off. It's such a conspiracy, really.
But I think about all the families that rely on credit cards and end up in $20, $30, $50,000 of credit card debt alone, and it makes me so angry. Does ANYONE do the math?
It all seems so simple. Children are expensive. They need food, clothing, entertainment, etc., all separate from the adults. And let's not even go there when it comes to childcare. There's a mindset that "if you wait 'til you can afford it, then it will NEVER happen!" "If you get pregnant, then it's meant to be. God won't put more on you than you can handle." BULL. SHIT.
I see people constantly with more than they can handle. The only reason they're handling it at all is because the rest of us who pay our taxes and work for a living are handling it for them. I have accepted that when we buy a house, we'll be paying for services like schools and health care for children we don't have. But that people are having 4, 6, 8 children without having the means to afford it, it just makes me sick.
Why does critical thinking go out the window when it comes to pregnancy and babies? Why oh why do people make excuses and call each one a gift from God, even though some parents have children living in squalor, going hungry, just because it was "God's Plan."
It's bullshit and nothing but people using God to make excuses for their selfish behavior. If you can't afford to care for a child, then you have no business having one. PERIOD.
Does that change the reality that children will be born to unfit, unprepared parents? Of course not. But until every child can be cared for and cared for well, I will continue to believe that there are already far too many children for this little planet to handle, and it would be wholly irresponsible for me to add to that burden.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Set aside the fact that having children is absolutely no guarantee of future care. My friend's father (rest his soul) was abandoned by all his children but her and her husband, who took him in when he was too ill, and provided him home hospice care when their family, with meager means, could not afford a dignified nursing home. She and her husband lived in misery for her father, sacrificing much of their first year of marriage, caring for him. They wanted to do this, but the lack of caring from her other siblings was constant and palpable. Her father was miserable and knew that only his eldest daughter gave a damn about what happened to him when he became incapacitated.
Many aren't even fortunate enough to have one of their many children care for them.
My husband and I, on the other hand, will have a long-term care plan to guarantee us care when there's no one else to do that. The money we save by not having children will go to our retirement and future healthcare arrangements. We will have this luxury.
Aside from care, there was the question of loneliness. This was answered for us at Dragon*Con, a science fiction convention in Atlanta that we were fortunate enough to attend this past weekend. Throughout the *Con, we saw this adorable little costumed couple -- at least in their 60s, sometimes in full Jedi regalia, other times as elaborate wizards -- having a blast. Their love for each other could be felt a mile away and they were so clearly having a blast, talking to other *Con-goers, smiling with each other, posing gleefully for photos. My husband and I mused that we would be that couple in 30 years.
The best part? A dear friend, upon seeing the couple for the first time near the end of the *Con, turned to me and said "that is SO going to be you and A in 30 years".
I don't believe children keep one young. I believe the responsibility for that lies i oneself. In many, I daresay most cases, children make one exhausted, bitter, grumpy and haggard. They turn loving couples against each other, unable to appreciate each other after years of putting the children ahead of their relationships. It makes me sad.
I wish I'd approached the little wizard couple at Dragon*Con. My instinct was that they were childfree, but who knows. In my fantasy, they are, kept young because they never decided to grow up. That's the beauty of remaining childfree -- you never have to grow up. You pay your bills, manage your investments, buy your houses and cars, but there's also no reason you can't have ice cream for breakfast, stay in Saturday morning and watch cartoons while snuggling on the sofa, decide on a whim to go on a roadtrip, or maybe just to the mall.
Sure, you can do this with kids if you put your mind to it. It's just not as fun because whenever you're with kids, you still have to be The Grown-Up. I never want to be in a situation where I have to be The Grown-Up for more than a day or so at a time.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
It was my future sister-in-law's wedding shower, and I was sat at the table with all the sisters and cousins, all of whom have children. I was also seated directly across from M and baby J. I was treated to a great deal of conversation about topics ranging from "I sometimes don't even know my husband anymore" to "I almost couldn't come today because I couldn't find a sitter [and my husband is a lazy hack who wouldn't watch the kids]" and "I'm getting ready to go back to work but employers are so horrible about being accommodating for mothers".
Yeah, so I sat silent most of the dinner. I felt as if I had no allies, especially as these women kept looking at me to pipe up and contribute, but to contribute what, exactly?
There was also the Passing of the New Baby. Just two months old, little J is adorable, with soft tufts of orange hair and a smile that could make anyone melt. She is absolutely adorable, no doubt. But thank you, I'll pass on holding her.
She was tossed from one cousin to the next, cuddled and snuggled while the women talked longingly about wanting "another one of these", missing the little cries, the little whines. "I miss this!" they all say. Luckily I was at the end of the table, so I wasn't put in the awkward position of actually having to say no when someone handed me the child, instead just passively sitting while not asking to hold the baby. I don't like holding babies, in general, for the sake of holding them. If there's a reason, if Mom needs a hand with something, I'll gladly take over, but it's not something I enjoy doing just for the sake of doing it.
So later in the evening, M was sitting opposite me with Sleeping J in her arms and asked me, "so have you guys given any thought to whether you want to do this", gesturing to the baby. She assured me she wasn't judging, just asking, and I believed her. I told her about my career aspirations, that I want to start my own business, A's finishing up school, and we're just so busy all the time, and that I just didn't see fitting a child into that routine. She nodded and said it was good that we were thinking it through, and that we should never let anyone tell us that it's a decision we should make without careful consideration. She conceded she never could have done her previous job while raising a child, and losing that part of her career was a big decision to make.
It was nice talking to her. I didn't close the door completely, but I certainly didn't lead her to believe I was changing my mind anytime soon. It felt good. I knew she would be understanding -- she's not blood. The blood of A's stepfamily is where the judgment comes in that family.
In the meantime, my future sister-in-law is ripping her gifts to shreds and breaking every ribbon she can find intentionally because she plans to get started early on a large family. She'll be a good addition to the family. They'll approve of that.
When I told my mother-in-law that A was going back to school in January, she asked me what prompted him to do so. "We have the money now," I said. "We're financially stable and he's ready." I could read in her eyes when she said "are you SURE that's the only reason? Was there any other reason that made him consider that?" that she really wanted to say "is it because you're finally coming to your senses and realizing that the husband is supposed to support "the family", and it's about time you come to your senses and stop it with these career goals that keep postponing the babies".
Am I putting words in her mouth? Only because she implies it constantly. I know she disapproves of the fact that I make more money than my husband, that she thinks a woman's place is, indeed, at home. She's said it, just not as a direct criticism to me.
I hope my words to M make their way to my mother-in-law. I hope the conversation we finally have is a confrontation, the result of a direct question, because I cannot lie. I'm done smiling and giggling uncomfortably when the subject comes up, and I have my husband's support to tell them. I just don't want to be the one to open the conversation.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
All the signs were there. I've been inexplicably nauseaus the last few days, along with a host of other symptoms that pointed to babies. I talked to my husband and he insisted I go take the test now, even though he's at work, so I can stop feeling paranoid.
I cried -- a lot -- before I left to get the test. Never is it more clear to me that I don't want children than when I have a scare. I haven't had one in a couple years, but my god, there is nothing more terrifying to sit there watching the reference line coming in and praying to whomever will listen that the other line doesn't come up.
The IUD is as effective as a vasectomy, but it's still not 100%, and that small percentage is enough to freak me out when I'm feeling as crappy as I have been the last few days. I don't get a regular period, so there's no real way to know when I miss it. With my menstrual history I'm probably damn near infertile anyway, but I still get paranoid.
When I told my husband that I was taking the test, he reassured me, told me if it was positive it was my decision what to do and he'd support whatever I decided, which meant so much. But I was terrified, as i drove to Walgreens, as I stood in the checkout line, and I took the test and watched the pink line form in the reference area... I was more than half-sure this would be it. And I was thinking about my infertile friends, how horrible it would be if this happened to me and not them.
But it didn't. I'm okay. The IUD is effective and I've probably just got a bug.
I hope this helps me with my paranoia, knowing that these physical symptoms have nothing to do with pregnancy. I can go on normally, now. And I'm so thankful.
Monday, August 21, 2006
She already has a lot of health problems and it's likely they will continue. It's not just the likelihood of health issues either; it's even more likely that she will have developmental and mental problems.
Now, add this to the fact that my friend's sister was knocked up -- this was a very unplanned pregnancy. She and her now-husband (they wanted to "do the right thing") are incredibly young, don't have the kind of money or, quite frankly, the maturity (from the stories I've heard) to deal with this.
One of my greatest fears is having a sick child. I know it's possible to lead a fun, social life and career with a child, but what about a sick child? Something as minor and prevalent as ADHD, to something as major as Down Syndrome or worse... there goes your life. You're not even Mom anymore, you're Caregiver, in some cases stuck with a baby who is still, functionally, a baby at 30. A woman and her Down Syndrome son joined us in the elevator at my grandmother-in-law's building, and my husband and I smiled at each other and we knew why.
Our friends and family are blessed with children whose worst issues are behavioral problems (specifically, our nephew who has a sensory disorder and my cousin who has a learning disability). My husband is *obsessed* with the law of averages and is convinced that one of the next babies who comes into our life will have a major issue. Even if that is a little extreme, I know I definitely don't want to be a part of that club. It's a chance I don't want to take.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
It's odd, because I spent the entire weekend with my husband at a gaming convention, spending time with friends, meeting new ones, staying out 'til the wee hours, staring in wonder at the families with kids and wondering how they could possibly do this convention with them. Of course they experience the Con differently than we do, spending more time at the Yu-Gi-Oh! booth than with their own friends, and it was really cute to see the dads who were helping their sons with their Dungeons & Dragons games. But, as usual, the moment I get a glimmer of "I could do that", I get hit in the face with "oh my gods I could NEVER do that".
I feel fortunate that I know before making the leap that I am not equipped to handle being a mom. And I feel like I beat a dead horse on this, but I hear the women on these talk shows speak about how it's the best thing in the world to be a mom, etc etc etc, and when this happens, I ask myself "why don't I want that?"
I read and hear it implied that if I don't want children, I must be suppressing my natural instincts, that I'm fighting against a desire because I want something else. Even within the childfree community I hear about people and their surrogate children (usually pets), or finding a replacement for kids, or an alternate outlet for maternal feelings. As much as I love my cat and consider him part of our family, I don't consider him a child-replacement. There's no need for one.
I don't feel like I'm missing out on motherhood any more than I'm missing out on, say, the skydiving outing my friends are doing in a couple weeks. They can go ahead, have fun, tell me how I'm missing out on a good time; but if it's something I have no desire to do, that I fear and find unpleasant at the mere thought, then how can I be missing out on it? Sure, if you want to do something and chicken out because of fear, there might be some regret. It's not that I fear it -- it's that I don't want to do it.
Building analogies helps me understand my feelings and realize they're okay. I think when I watch daytime TV and start feeling this way it's because I'm looking at my situation and seeing it through the Mommy filter. I'm glad I have this blog to sort out my feelings. I'm much better than I was at the beginning of this post.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Morpheus: My beliefs do not require them to.
My husband's annual family reunion brings with it a few guarantees. #1 - We will appreciate how fortunate we are that we get to enjoy the sun, the lake, and the company at his step-aunt's lake house estate. #2 - we will want, by the end of the weekend, to either gouge our own eyes out or perhaps the eyes of others if the children don't stop. Doesn't matter what, we just need them to STOP. #3 - we will experience a lecture of some sort about what we're missing out on by not having children (usually by the grandparents), while the parents tell us how the children are making them crazy and destroying their lives.
Never is it more apparent that I am not Mommy material than at the family reunion. Like last year, I see what is supposed to be a vacation transform into a rodeo, wrangling the kids, keeping them off each other, finding out who hit whom and why, locating lost toys, determining what belongs to whom and who stole whose whatever. It's exhausting to watch, and I can't imagine how it must be for the parents. Well, I sort of can, because all I hear from the moms is complaining.
I will say this. The sister-in-law who has been the main culprit in the "Stasha must have babies" campaign has mellowed, and I think she might even get it. She hasn't said anything about "when" we have kids, I must have kids, etc. in two visits now. This is a good thing.
My father-in-law, on the other hand, just loves talking about how great my husband and I are with the kids when we're playing with them. It's true -- we have a lot of fun when the kids are behaving. I was playing with our three-year-old niece and nephew and a giant frisbee sort of thing, while my 6'5" tall husband played monkey in the middle with the older kids (all between 6 and 9). It was a ton of fun, and we loved it! And when the kids started getting too rough, we said "okay, that's enough, Auntie and Uncle are tired," and sent the kids off to their parents. It was fantastic!
But it was shortlived. We left the kids to play by themselves and then came -- not the thanks for playing with them for over an hour -- the guilt. "Oh, come on, now who's going to watch them? They just beat up on each other when no one's around!" The answer? NOT OUR PROBLEM.
The worst part of the trip was the annual pontoon boat ride, always a haven for drama. At first we considered ourselves lucky that we weren't on the boat with all the children. Then we realized we were on the boat with the drunk aunts. The passive-aggressively preachy ones.
Oh, it was fabulous. We got to hear all about how kids these days think it's just fine to get married in their late 20s and not have kids until well into their 30s, when the best thing to do is just have "the kids" right away (because marriage=children). Oh, and did we ever hear it about families with only one child. It's almost as if having no children would be preferable to having only one child. WOW. Of course, as most things are in this family, everything was indirect. There were no direct questions about when we were having children, just insistence and pressure to have many and start NOW, to stop "wasting our time" with traveling and building my business. Oh, she preached and preached, made sure I knew how devastated her oldest daughter was to be single and childless at 36 (I think she's intentionally both); made sure I knew her one daughter was barren and her other, well, let's not talk about how she's wasting her life (single at 32).
To this woman, success at life equals marrying, having babies, and letting your husband make the money. We talked about our plans to travel -- Australia next year, China with friends in 2008 or 2009 -- and she just kept on about how important it was to start a family while you're young.
I wanted to scream at her "It's my life! This is what I want to do with it! We want to travel, to enjoy our vacations instead of having them feel like babysitting. We want to ride on the waverunners and swim to the deep end and not have our eyes glued to the children. It's our life. Just be happy that we're happy."
I should have screamed that, but I decided long ago that it's my husband's responsibility to decide when he wants to tell his family we're not having children. My family knows. My family is fine. This is his deal.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I had no idea.
This is just one more person I am close to who has dealt with fertility and childbearing issues. Two people in my husband's close family, an aunt of mine, and now not two, but three close friends of mine had/have devastating fertility problems. This seems like a lot of people to me; either that or infertility is more common than I'd initially thought. The only common thread among them is that I feel very uncomfortable around them.
When my friend told me this weekend, I was in shock. I suspected she and her husband might be trying to conceive, but some of the issues she brought up, I had never considered. She talked about people wo talk about "just adopting", and she explained how impossible it seems, and it's even been hard for them to commit to foster care because she was a foster kid and understands that the ultimate goal for foster kids is to get them back to their birth parents. It worked for her, and she went back with her mom eventually, so she has an especially deep understanding about this. But I know it's killing her that she can't have a baby of her own.
I started to feel self-conscious that I've been trivializing the desire to have children. It's so hard because it's something I have never felt, and while I know it's not as simple as, say, a fleeting desire for a pair of shoes, it's impossible for me to understand this burning need to have children, the heartbreak of not being able to have them, to feel like you're "settling" for adoption or foster care.
I feel like I need to clarify that when I say "if we decide later that we want kids, we'll adopt", I am saying this with an understanding of what it's about, at least in that I know it's not "easy". It's not cheap, it's not painless, and it's not an easy thing. I do know this, and the adoption thing is also not a decision that my husband and I have just up and "said". When we talk about him getting a vasectomy, this is a very real thing that we discuss, even though we're confident about our decision.
But still, when the talk of babies and children comes up, when it's friends talking about their kids or talking about my childfree life, I feel instantly uncomfortable for them, wondering if they're okay with this. I know it's different for everyone. I have one friend who exuses herself from the room and bursts into tears at any mention of children, especially the children of her friends, another who is okay with it but the tension in the room becomes palpable. This latest friend I haven't quite read, but she's notoriously hard to read about EVERYTHING, and I can't imagine her getting emotional about anything.
I don't know if this is the case, but I feel as if infertile women think I'm insulting them, that my decision makes a mockery of their situation, that I run around thinking "anyone" can have babies and it's no big deal. I'm not a big subscriber to the "no big deal" mindset, although I stand by and own my statements from my Biology 101 post. Of course it's not as simple as that, especially for women who can't conceive. It's so hard to clarify my thoughts on this, because while the friend who cries as the mere thought of baby shoes is in an already bad relationship that will suffer incurably if she gets pregnant, I actually wished on a shooting star the other night my latest infertile friend would be able to conceive.
When people suggest to me that I should just pretend we are infertile, I can't think of anything more insensitive. I can't possibly mock the pain these people in my life are going through, and I certainly don't want to end up in the position of talking about my "infertility". While I suspect that if I desired to get pregnant it would be very, very difficult because I don't get a regular period (only once every few months, even a year after getting off hormonal birth control), I can't pretend that's something I'm living with. It would be disrespectful to anyone who ever truly has gone through it.
The point I intended on making in this post was "just because we can have babies does not mean we must", but I wanted to take it a step further. I believe it is a tragedy when people who desperately want to be parents cannot realize that dream. But I also believe that I have to stop feeling guilty because I don't want children. It's my own fault that I do feel guilty,
Monday, July 10, 2006
It's so interesting to me that there are so many people who "accidentally" get pregnant. Of course accidents happen, and I have several friends and acquaintances who are the victims of failed birth control. But I see television shows like Maury "Paternity Test" Povich, where these women are coming out and wondering if one of two, three, ten, twelve men are the father of their children, and I just wonder how on earth God could let them breed. It's one of those issues that truly makes me wonder how there could possibly be a God, to be honest.
All children are a blessing, a miracle, right? I don't think so. Constantly I see women with more children than they can handle, and often they can't even handle one! They have unprotected sex and the punishment for that is what? BABIES! It just seems so wrong, like God would consider a more appropriate punishment to fit the crime.
Raising a child is so difficult -- why is it that it's so easy for humans to breed? The only answer I can think of is that it's just science, biology at its most basic, not some master plan by an unseen higher power. It's unfathomable to me that this God who is supposed to be looking out for His people, would let the world become overrun with children, would take something that is supposed to be special and wonderful and make it no more magical than an accident. In a world where children are so easily produced, so frivolously produced, I just can't see children as anything but that -- as Biology 101. Even my beautiful neice was little more than an accident, and both she and my brother have been paying for that since her birth because her mother is so messed up.
Of course it's more than that, and for many couples it's a conscious choice and these kids are created intentionally and out of love. It just kills me that it's implied that I'm missing out on this miracle, when all I see that I'm missing out on is Biology 101, a reproductive process that I have no desire to be a part of. If I want kids someday, I will take in one of those frivolously created children, someone whose parents didn't think about, couldn't take care of. As long as all those children need homes, need love, need parents, I feel like they would need me more than a child that I biologically created could ever need me.
But that's the beauty of my situation. Those children need a home with people who are willing and ready to raise them. I am not that person, and neither is my husband. If our situation changes, we know there never will be a shortage of kids up for adoption. But until we are 100% ready for that step, and if our life continues to be as full and happy as it is now, we won't ever be, if we get sterilized as we want to, we don't have to worry about accidental pregnancy. It's the best freedom of choice that there could possibly be.
Friday, July 07, 2006
She was the last person you'd expect to see get knocked up.
Birth control fails, people. It happens. It happened to her. Sure she had recently finished a round of antibiotics, but she was done now, and it's not like she was ovulating.
She and her boyfriend talked about it, decided to get married and combine their incomes so they could raise the baby and still afford the house she had bought. It would be tight, with childcare so expensive, but they could do this. It was one baby, not that big of a deal.
And then there were two. Gorgeous twin boys. Two gorgeous twin boys. Two mouths to feed. To bottoms to diaper. Two cribs, two sleepers, two carseats, two strollers. Two gorgeous baby boys to pay someone to watch. Two boys were too much.
Her husband had an extra four years of career over hers, therefore more contacts, more experience, and a better salary. 80% of her salary went to childcare. Eighty Percent. With gas prices, the cost of commuting, and too many hours in the lab tugging at her heart strings, she decided, reluctantly to leave her job.
Of course she loves her boys, but after only a month at home with them she's losing her mind. She misses the challenges of working in the lab, working toward something, toward her dream job. This wasn't what she signed up for. She still feels that one baby they could have handled, but being blindsided by two is just too much.
And yet it's overkill to want two forms of highly effective birth control. Her story terrifies me more than anything else. Regardless of whether we want kids, one baby, sure we could manage financially, but what if the child had special needs? What if there were two? Kiss a career goodbye. Kiss all the nice things we can have goodbye, the traveling, the time with friends, with each other. No thank you. Give me a one in a million chance and then I'll stop worrying about getting pregnant.