Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Special Order

A friend of mine, along with her husband, is currently looking to the foster care system to find a child. I decided to look into the kids "available" to get an idea what she was in for.

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

Constant Change

"We're still going to go out dancing and see our friends!"
"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

Camping Friends

Another pregnancy announced today. Another birth. Two babies and three pregnancies in the last month or two. I'm thrilled for them all, of course, and I marvel at the changes that are going to be happening in the next year.

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

That Horrible Woman

We went to dinner with my in-laws tonight. I debuted the idea of us considering maybe opening my business in New Orleans after my husband graduates if their economy is ready for a marketing/design startup (the plan is to begin research now, look into grants, etc). It was not received warmly, but I don't think anyone gave it much credence. That's probably okay.

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

And Then I Find Peace…

And, as quickly as it began, the emptiness and weirdness fades away.

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.

Reflection Hurts (x-posted from LiveJournal)

I'm enjoying writing my NaNoWriMo novella, but it's becoming more personal than I intended. The interesting thing about this process, writing so quickly and so stream-of-conscious-ly (necessary if one hopes to ever make the deadlines) is that the story takes on a life of its own.

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.

What happened?

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

What the Hell is This Feeling?

I don't know what it is, but I've been feeling awful all day. I'm currently writing a novella for National Novel Writing Month with a childfree theme and I've been doing a lot of research. I suspect my über-emotional state has to do with a few things:
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

Someone Who Gets It

I got the most unbelievable validation from my husband's best friend. He's known my in-laws for nearly 20 years, and the only authority other than my husband who can pass judgments on the way I'm choosing to handle things with the family.

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

Childfree TV


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.