I'm Scooped. But There's Still Plenty More to Say.

Hearing about last week’s Time Magazine cover story on “The Childfree Life” was one of those moments writers dread. The book idea I’ve been contemplating for a decade is now trending big time, no thanks to me.

Yup, I’ve missed the boat on having kids, and now I feel like I’ve missed the chance to be the voice on the issue. To top it off, Lauren Sandler, the writer who scooped me, is a mom.

 

It’s only recently that I’ve felt ready to write about the issue that has consumed me more than any other. And it’s only recently, in my mid-forties, that I’ve shifted from feeling childless to something closer to childfree.

 

I spent much of my late twenties and thirties wanting kids – or thinking I wanted them – and feeling alternatively ambivalent, sad, and angry that it wasn’t happening. My first marriage crumbled, in part, over the fact that I wanted kids and my then-husband didn’t.

 

At 39, when I divorced and re-entered the dating world, I was firmly aware that the door for children was still open. In fact, everyone – including my ex - thought I’d rush right out and get myself preggers. But my ambivalence remained, even after I was sprung from the marriage I’d been blaming for my non-mom status.

 

Soon after my divorce, I fell in love again. Again, with a man who no had interest in having kids. That sealed the deal for me, with no one to blame but myself. But my anxiety about what it would be like to close that door for good remained.

 

Then, inch by inch, things began to shift. When I re-married at 44, and my new husband celebrated his 50th birthday the year we wed, people finally stopped asking. And even I stopped wondering.

 

Just as I started settling into a more comfortable identity as a woman without children, younger relatives, friends and mentees began approaching me to talk about my status.

 

What’s it like?” “I think I may be going down the same path. Can we talk?” “Did you choose or did it just happen?” With each of those conversations, came a realization. Perhaps I could be a role model to those envisioning a life without children.

 

Each time I’m asked now, I relish that I have something to share. I take the responsibility seriously, making sure to reveal both the joys – the freedom to pursue gratifying work, the flexibility, a romantic relationship unburdened by some of the gender expectations and traps that parents face. And the pain -- Will I regret it? Will I miss that unique kind of love? And I remember how helpful it’s been to have older women without children in my life, and how special those relationships have been.

 

Oddly, despite the all-consuming interest I have in the topic, it took me a good three days to read the article. I had excuses. I'm busy. I’ll wait till it’s out on the newsstand. The cover image of a bathing suited couple sprawling at the beach is a total turnoff – will I be reading about my kind as selfish hedonists? Truth is, I was terrified. What if the story covered everything I wanted to say? Finally, after reading way too much commentary without reading the story, I caved and bought the magazine.

 

I quickly concluded the story was a good one. Very good. Sandler examined the issue from nearly every angle. She captured the variety of how-we-got-here stories that women in my secret sorority carry. Even the antipathy toward today’s style of parenting.

 

And she posed the right questions. Is this just an issue for educated elites? (Not really.) Is it just happening in the US? (No, we’re actually a little late to the party.) What do women do when they don’t have children? (Lots of stuff, including quite a lot of “mothering in the world” as teachers, mentors, and counselors.) Hell, she even raised a few issues I’d never thought of. Research suggests that the more intelligent women are the less they are likely to have children. (Really?)

 

Still, there are plenty of areas Sandler didn’t get to. Like the experiences of women well past childbearing years. What kinds of new patterns will we be seeing for older women who want to connect with future generations? What will it mean for society that there’s going to be a giant cohort of women who never became mothers? Will there be a boom in memoir and nonfiction by and about women without children. (“Non-Mom Lit,” anyone?) Will we be seeing new channels and communities for informal mentoring between women who didn’t have children and women making their way through those door-still-open years?

 

I’m still pissed I didn’t get there first. I would have liked to nab that Time cover story for myself. But I’m relieved that a writer as smart as Sandler got this conversation rolling, and I know I’ll weigh in, along with lots of others. More important, I’m relieved that I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I’m okay with not having kids.

 

Most of the time.

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Comment by Juanita K. on February 13, 2016 at 5:24pm

Nice! Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Kalysta Rose on July 21, 2015 at 12:53am

I think you should go ahead and write your book.  One article doesn't mean the topic is covered or exhausted.  It's just the beginning and the Time article really could be looked at as promotion of the topic.  Something that will help you get read if it's a trending topic that others are writing about.  As readers below are saying they'd like to read a book with a lot more depth than an article -- so I say go for it.

For me, I was the same through my 20's and 30's where I really wanted kids but never met the right man to have them with.  Then when I turned 40 I chose to have a child via a donor as I didn't want to miss out on having a child.  I was very lucky and am now blessed with a boy who is now 5 years old.  It's been a happy, brilliant, exhausting, stressful and enjoyable time for me as a Solo Parent.

Even though my road changed from living a child-free life I'd be interested in the perspective you could write about as I nearly went that way too.

I say Do It!

Comment by Calliope Lappas on August 26, 2013 at 9:36am

I enjoyed reading your blog!  Thank you for sharing!  This is a topic I think about often as I wonder what life will be like if I never end up having children, especially as it's something I've always wanted.

Don't think of it as not having gotten there first to write it.  Think of it as a chance to use this article to spark an even deeper piece you can now write...a chance to touch on what wasn't said, a chance to expand on thoughts that weren't fully fleshed out, etc, etc...and of course, a chance to say it all in your very own unique way!  Already, you're doing just that by sharing this wonderful piece! :)

Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on August 16, 2013 at 3:48pm

Enjoyed reading your blog, Marci. I hope that your writing dreams are eventually realized, despite your disappointment in not being the first to write about an issue dear to your heart. I look forward to reading more about your perspectives here on SW. :0)

Comment by Alicia M. Smith on August 16, 2013 at 10:47am

Oh wow, Marci.  Boy do I relate to this blog article.  Not only on a professional level (I recently discovered I'd been "scooped"), but also on a personal level, more than I could possibly describe.  Thanks for allowing me to not feel so alone -- on BOTH fronts.

Comment by Kamy Wicoff on August 16, 2013 at 7:57am

Marci what great news about the Daily Beast!  I'm going to check it out.  

Comment by Suzy Soro on August 15, 2013 at 2:35pm

I'm a big believer in "signs", Marci. I always tell people, "Follow the Signs." This is one of them. (congratulations)

Comment by marci alboher on August 15, 2013 at 2:16pm

Update: This post was picked up by the Daily Beast's Women in the World! And that happened because a writer friend of mine decided to share it with her editor -- further evidence of the power of our community. http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/cheats/2013/08/15/envisioning-a-c...

Comment by Marjorie Robertson on August 15, 2013 at 1:06pm

Marci, I'm 47 and child-free, never having expected to be living the life that I am without husband + kids. You express my sentiments exactly. I'll add to that by saying that I will not live one more moment of this short life regretting something that came about despite my best efforts. I bought the magazine only for that story and wished for more detail, more in-depth discussion of issues. (It's a magazine article, I know.) I'd buy and read a book written by you that goes more deeply into these issues, including and especially new patterns that you speak of. It is only the beginning. You are right on time.

Some months ago, I heard an NPR program in which the journalist suggested that women (since we tend to outlive men and plenty aren't "taken care of" by their children) should make agreements with our women friends to live together or as neighbors at some point. A kind of pact. I think that if we looked for it, we'd find such communities, dating back centuries. Let's keep this all in perspective!

@Michael---We (people, Americans, the world) need to hear men's perspectives on this issue. Why is the focus solely on whether a woman will or won't have children? It's sexist and undermines the role of a man and a father. I'll look for your book. Please write more.

Comment by Suzy Soro on August 15, 2013 at 9:01am

Thanks, Marci. Brooke is right, no point in getting discouraged. Life gives us plenty of reasons to do that WITHOUT writing books!

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