I'm Scooped. But There's Still Plenty More to Say.
Contributor
Written by
marci alboher
August 2013
Contributor
Written by
marci alboher
August 2013

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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Comments
  • Nice! Thanks for sharing.

  • Kalysta Rose

    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!

  • Calliope Lappas

    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! :)

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    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)

  • Alicia M. Smith

    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.

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

  • Suzy Soro

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

  • marci alboher

    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-child-free-future.html

  • Marjorie Robertson

    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.

  • Suzy Soro

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

  • marci alboher

    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.) 

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    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.

  • marci alboher

    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.

  • Michael N. Marcus
    (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”).
     
  • notionpress

    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.

    Regards,

    Notion Press

    http://notionpress.com/
  • 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.

  • Louise Fabiani

    Marci,
    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.

  • Susan J. Elliott

    (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!

  • Susan J. Elliott

    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!

  • Suzy Soro

    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.

  • Carolyn Niethammer

    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!

  • Suzy Soro

    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!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Get writing! It's still a very timely subject and you will bring your own unique perspective to it

  • Julie Luek

    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.

  • Jennifer Richardson

    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-oprah-problem-and.html

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

    Jennifer