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 marci alboher on August 15, 2013 at 8:02am

Thanks Brooke for your perspective on this. I've been reading "No Kidding," which I learned about from the Time Mag article (and linked to in my piece). Have also read "Two is Enough." Btw @Suzy, LOVED your piece! Brooke, I'm sure you noticed @Michael's comment below on his experience of his wife's miscarriage (something I've NEVER read before.) 

Comment by Brooke Warner on August 15, 2013 at 5:38am

Marci, it's so so important not to get discouraged by trending topics. @Suzy mentioned Seal's new anthology, No Kidding, but I acquired a book at Seal back in 2008 called Two Is Enough, by Laura Scott. That book pubbed in 2009 and is still on their list, still going strong. There is always room for new expression. I also want to share with this awesome group of commenters the possibility (for those who have dealt with losing pregnancies) of contributing to SWP's new anthology called Three Minus One: http://shewritespress.com/rtz-call-for-submissions. I'd be interested to have a writer contribute who ended up childless as a result of pregnancy loss, since that's a unique perspective, different from those who went on to have children. And that's a lot of what we're seeing. Thank you all, and thanks Marci, for your perspective here.

Comment by marci alboher on August 14, 2013 at 10:39am

Michael, thanks so much for sharing your story. I'd love to hear more about men's experiences around this issue. And I love that you ID yourself as a HE-writer.

Comment by Michael N. Marcus on August 14, 2013 at 6:32am
(I'm one of the rare HeWriters in SheWrites.) For some time I've been thinking about writing the male counterpart of 'your' book.

My only child is a golden retriever. My wife and I didn't plan to be without human children. She had two miscarriages early in our marriage, and that was it. We both like kids but we both felt that adopting was too much of a gamble, so we didn't adopt (other than the dog). We're very close to nieces and nephews, and don't have to meet with grumpy teachers, pay for bar/bat mitzvahs, college and weddings. I just pick up dog shit.

I don’t remember the details of the first "miss." About three months into Marilyn's second pregnancy, she had terrible cramps and started staining in the middle of the night. I drove her from Westchester to a hospital in Manhattan at high speed with flashing lights and horn honking. An ambulance would've taken her to the closest hospital but she wanted to be treated by her own OB/GYN.

Our 'child' was nothing but a clot, a smear, a specimen to be analyzed and then destroyed. I felt cheated. We had thought about, dreamed about, planned for and even named our specimen. Furniture and clothing were picked out, but there was to be no name, no furniture, no baby clothes, not even a funeral.

There's lots of support for women who miscarry -- but apparently nothing for the not-quite-fathers.

About 30 years ago my brother-in-law tucked my nephew into bed and then went outside and smoked a cigar by the front door. That, I thought, is a man.

Sometimes I feel that by not reproducing, by not fully participating in the human continuum, I’ve never really grown up.  Maybe I became my own kid — and that’s why I do some silly stuff and buy myself so many big boys’ toys. Maybe I’m like Peter Pan (“I won’t grow up. I don’t want to wear a tie. I will stay a boy forever”).
Comment by notionpress on August 13, 2013 at 10:21pm

Interesting Story about Child free life... But some time a kid is a whole life for a single parent or a parents. well i must say life is a track so we have to take every experience in life.


Notion Press

Comment by Kamy Wicoff on August 13, 2013 at 3:24pm

Marci I love this piece -- especially the way you have shared an experience with us all that illuminates and provokes writerly questions while candidly opening up about a very personal issue, too.  Very She Writesy.  :)  And naturally I agree with the sentiment expressed so widely here...I want to read YOUR book on this subject, whenever you are ready to write it.

Comment by Louise Fabiani on August 13, 2013 at 12:38pm
I feel for you. It's awful to have an idea rattling around and then find out that someone beat you to it. But I agree with the other commenters that another perspective - maybe not in a huge mag like TIME - is certainly useful. I doubt the subject has even gone halfway to the saturation point! Go for it!
I have not read the TIME article but I read in a Grist.org piece commenting on it that it DID miss one side: the all-important environmental one! That subject is my area, btw. I am childfree but not likely to write about it just yet. I'm actually relieved to see that it's not up to me to tackle it into public discussion.
Comment by Susan J. Elliott on August 13, 2013 at 12:32pm

(sorry about not editing before posting.  After "old idea" there should be a comma and a clause that says "my book was published.)  Nothing like an author who fails to edit!  Apologies!

Comment by Susan J. Elliott on August 13, 2013 at 12:30pm

I agree with Patricia:  get writing!!!  I wrote my first book on recovering from a breakup.  Could there be a more overly analyzed subject than that?  Probably a few, but not too many.  If you're the only one who has an idea, maybe it's because no one cares about the subject.  But if I were you, I would get writing and jump into the conversation.  I had several agents tell me the subject was "done to death" and unless I had some incredible twist on the subject to forget it. But thanks to a popular blog, an agent returning to the publishing world after a few years absence and intrigued by the blog to book idea, and an editor who thought I did lend a new voice to an old idea.  My book enjoys over 160 5-star reviews on Amazon and is usually in the top 5 in the divorce category and was picked by About.com and Yahoo Shine as one of the best books of 2009.  So, there is always an audience for a fresh voice on an overdone subject.  WRITE!!!!  Best of luck to you!

Comment by Suzy Soro on August 13, 2013 at 12:01pm

Carolyn, India doesn't get it either. I was there for almost 3 weeks and that's all people asked me, why don't you have kids? ANNOYING.

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