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Weaving Women’s Truths into a Revealing Read
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
June 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
June 2019

This guest post is by Kate Kaufmann, author of Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No

I’ve spent the last decade immersed in what can be a sensitive and sometimes charged topic—how we create lives of meaning, connection, and joy without having children. Unlike mothers, who regularly exchange wisdom and experiences, we non-moms don’t have readily apparent ways to share.

On a walk one day with a new friend, our mutual non-motherhood sparked a fascinating conversation about how our lives differed from those of parents we knew. We compared and contrasting our experiences, and soon the two of us were cohosting small group discussions with other non-moms.

Group meetings buzzed with connection. Participants routinely observed they’d never had a chance to tell their stories, nor hear from others without kids. On reflection, these two-hour exchanges were tantamount to a series of focus groups for a writer homing in on her subject. I’d found the knowledge gap I knew needed filling.

Working Through an "Off" Voice

For years I’d tried to write about not having kids, but the voice was off—preachy, whiney, or protective—and I was missing an elusive direction I couldn’t yet see. I needed more input, so I ferreted out studies from PhD researchers and journalists about subjects most enthusiastically discussed in those small group gatherings: work life, friendship, and family; housing, health care, and spirituality; estate planning and what we leave behind when we die.

Sourcing Interviews

Now I was ready to gather individual stories and used what I later learned is the “snowball” technique of sourcing interview subjects. Basically, one willing participant recommends another.

Because I wanted to explore the impact of not having a specific life experience—raising children—I knew it could take time for participants to make the links. I designed a process that began with a letter of introduction, followed by a brief phone call to answer questions, build rapport, and gather general information. A deeper conversation about topics of interest to each woman occurred a week or two later.

I recorded every interview, with their permission, and transcribed every conversation myself, even though the process was cumbersome. As I listened and typed, the stories gained significance. What I gleaned from my side of the repartee was unexpected.

Career-wise I was adept at job interviewing and tended to avoid personal material inappropriate for employment-related queries—the very information most crucial to life narratives. With fewer, more probing questions I heard more insightful stories. Moments of silence became gentle invitations that elicited more detail. 

The result was a mosaic of stories from women ranging in age from twenty-four to ninety-one from across North America. Some are single, others partnered, of different ethnicities and sexual orientations. Then came the creative part—organizing this rich material into a manuscript.

The Original Plan

My original plan was to weave interview excerpts with research findings into topic-driven chapters following the life course. Start with work life, end with legacy. I’d tried braided narrative techniques in essays, where facts and anecdotes are combined. I liked the easy shift and flow of the form.

In an early chapter critique, one of my writing partners used film jargon to describe what was missing. The research findings, she said, created a panorama. Profiles and interview excerpts offered interesting middle ground. But I could get only so close to these women’s experiences and feelings. She suggested including my own story to flesh out the narrative with a more close-up perspective.

When first conceived, I’d consciously chosen to leave my story aside, preferring to remain in the background. Now I wondered if it was hypocritical asking women to share their stories, while mine stayed private. Most participants agreed to participate so other women would feel empowered to share. Yet I remained mum. Encouraged by my supportive writing group, I reluctantly gave my story a go.

What dividends that third story strand offered both reader and author! Having to answer the same questions I’d posed to others deepened an affinity that previously felt somewhat detached. I noticed that as women went deeper into their stories, so did I.

A woman who walked the Camino de Santiago recounted her spiritual quest. While editing her story, her revelations compelled me to consider my own. I discovered a surprising connection between my spiritual life, infertility, and my dad’s death. Though difficult to write, that content is impactful and profound.

The Final Product

Now my manuscript is a book—Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No. I feel transformed by the stories with which I was entrusted. The result, I hope, is a symbiotic and balanced exploration of nuanced, multi-faceted lives. As writers of truth, we are privileged to sit at the intersection of the stories we steward, stories that can change lives. Including our own.

Kate Kaufmann embarked on her life as a non-mom when she abandoned fertility treatments, quit her corporate job, and moved from the suburbs to a rural community to raise sheep. Since 2012, she has talked with hundreds of women ranging in age from twenty-four to ninety-one and advocates for better understanding of the childless/childfree demographic. Kate received an MFA in creative writing in 2016 from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and has a professional background in corporate staffing, training, and consulting. She's lived in various urban, suburban, rural, and coastal communities and currently calls Portland, Oregon home. Her writing has appeared most recently in the Washington Post. Visit her at www.katekaufmann.com.

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