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 Carolyn Niethammer on August 13, 2013 at 11:59am

At 69, I have several girlfriends who are childless like me.  I have never felt unusual except when we lived in Africa. They don't get childlessness.  When I remarried at 34, my doctor said if you're going to have kids, get started. We discussed it for two years and then when I had an unexpected tubal pregnancy, just told them to cut the other tube as well. I have never regretted it; I would not have been the kind of mom I think a child should have. I like kids in small doses but could not have faced the dailiness of it. Now, however, when friends are having these adorable grandchildren, that's another story....  As for the publishing dilemna, the mainstream press seems to like stuff that's trendy. Get too original and they think nobody is interested.  Start writing before our attention turns to something else!

Comment by Suzy Soro on August 13, 2013 at 11:56am

I'm in an anthology called No Kidding, about not having kids, that Seal Press put out this past April. We were mentioned in the Washington Post and Time Magazine (online editions, don't know about the paper versions) and have staged readings in San Francisco, LA, NY, and soon, Marfa, Texas!

We were just approached by off-Broadway producers to bring our show to a theater in Manhattan. If you look at our Amazon page, down at the bottom, there are other books listed in this same genre. 

I'm a comedian by trade and there is always the argument about "Who told the joke first?" There is also the concept that there are only 7 story lines in the whole world. The difference is in the telling of them all. So get on it, girl!

Comment by Patricia Robertson on August 13, 2013 at 11:49am
Get writing! It's still a very timely subject and you will bring your own unique perspective to it
Comment by Julie Luek on August 13, 2013 at 11:47am

I think it still sounds like a great idea-- she primed the pump for you! Now the issue is out there but you get to take it to a deeper, personal level and allow us to feel it, not just know about it. I'm cheering you-- I think it's a great topic.

Comment by Jennifer Richardson on August 13, 2013 at 11:44am

Hi Marci,

I know how you feel! My book, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage (She Writes Press, May 2013), is a travel memoir about my time in the Cotswolds, but also my decision to ultimately remain childfree. It came out exactly a week after comedian Jen Kirkman published her book on being childfree, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids. The good news is that more and more people publishing on the subject helps demonstrate it's a growing demographic, i.e., more readers! I think the topic is downright zeitgeisty, and there's plenty of room for more. Also, as a first time author, it was interesting for me to see how Jen Kirkman used her established platform on twitter to go and mine readers, including me, who self-identified as #childfree. Quite a learning experience.

Oh and by the way, I posted my response to the Time cover story on my blog today here:

http://www.baronessbarren.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-childfree-life-o...

Good luck and looking forward to reading your pieces on the subject.

Jennifer

 

Comment by Lois Gross on August 13, 2013 at 11:24am

I actually got into a fight on HuffPo, the other day, about this article.  As a young mom (my daughter was 5 months old at the time), we discovered that my husband was carrying the gene for Neurofibromatosis.  Genetic counseling was still in its infancy, but we went to a counselor and were given a list of the likelihood that our beautiful child would develop serious problems.  It was frightening.  The problems ranged from cosmetic fibromas (tumors) through severe learning disabilities to skeletal problems and, as we later found out with my husband, tumors growing on internal organs that required major surgery.  Confronted with this prognosis, we made a decision to not have any other children 1) because NF is autosomal dominate (50/50 chance of transmission with only one parent as the carrier), and 2) because we wanted to have all our resources available if she needed care.  Had we known about the problem before she was conceived, we would have chosen not to have any biological children.  Some man chastised me, on HuffPo, for saying this and asking if my daughter knew that she was "unwanted."  Not only is she wanted, she is loved and is a heroic person, in her own right (having donated a kidney to her dad, several years ago).  But when she told us that she and her spouse are leaning toward a child-free life, we told her that was fine with us.  the point of having genetic testing is to make use of it in an intelligent and thoughtful way.  I would not have missed one day of my daughter's life, but had I known before she was conceived what I found out after, I would have chosen not to have children without a single thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment by PoDiMo on August 12, 2013 at 8:02pm

I recently became a member of the dirty thirty club and the looks that I get when I say that I do not want kids is bewildering. when I was a little girl the only thing I wanted to do is be a wife not a mother. I dare not say this out loud and its scary that despite my success that people will judge me for not wanting kids. I have read the article in times not only this one but the one that was based on the Millennial babies. I have two strikes against me :( 

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