Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What about those who are childless by un-marriage?

When I heard that MelanieNotkin, author of Savvy Auntie, was about to publish a new book called Otherhood (Seal Press, 2014),  I rushed to buy a copy. I was sure this book about women who never had children because they never married would be fascinating. But the book let me down.

Otherhood started well, but I found it hard to identify with the women Notkin was writing about. Her study of unmarried childless women is pretty much limited to attractive, successful women in their 30s and 40s living in New York City. They go to clubs, date a lot, and meet at swanky places to complain about the guys they date. It’s very Sex and the City. I love that show, and I sympathize with Notkin and her fabulous friends, but she leaves a world of never-married people out of the story. Where are the women who are shy, fat, disabled, poor, uneducated, ugly, awkward, or living in small towns without a lot of eligible men? Where are the people who haven’t had a date in decades, if ever?

Notkin is childless and so are most of her friends. They talk about their options as they approach 40 and beyond. Some are freezing their eggs. Some are considering getting pregnant with donor eggs. They debate over whether they should have a child on their own. All of these options are so expensive most of us can’t afford them, especially without husbands to share the cost. With all the new ways to get pregnant, Notkin says she sometimes she feels guilty for not wanting to have a baby by herself. Is that becoming the new norm, single parenthood? The latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show that in 40 percent of American births, the mothers are not married. So people are definitely having babies without husbands, but as Notkin notes, it's not easy.

And then there are those who almost get married but break up over the having-kids issue. I get comments here all the time about couples who break up or are considering it because one of them is waffling about children. In fact, this morning I received a comment from a woman whose husband has left her because she can't have children with him. I want to turn into my mother and shout “What’s wrong with these people?”

I’m alone now, but I have been married twice. I have known love and companionship and step-children. I really feel for those people who wanted the whole happy ending and never had a chance at it. And I am certain most of them are not living Sex-and-the-City lives drinking cosmopolitans with their girlfriends and complaining about the latest celebrity or Wall Street mogul they dated.

Otherhood is well-written and entertaining, but it only tells a small portion of the story. What do you think about this? I'd love to hear your thoughts on childlessness by way of never finding the right partner.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Can a childless author write believably about motherhood?

Can a childless woman write believable stories about pregnancy, babies and raising children? That’s something I often wonder as I write my novels and stories. In my most recent book, nobody has babies. My main character, PD, and her late husband were never able to conceive. The people she interacts with either don’t have kids or have children who are grown up. That’s pretty much what my life is like, too, although PD’s story is not about me.

I recently read a wonderful book by Oregon author Monica Drake called The Stud Book. It’s not what you think. The title comes from the records zookeepers keep of the animals’ mating and breeding activities. However, in addition to the zoo animals the character Sarah is monitoring, she and her friends are all dealing with babies. Sarah keeps having miscarriages but desperately wants a baby. Georgie just gave birth to her first child, and Nyla has two older kids but is now pregnant again. The author, who is a mom, describes their experiences in such great detail that it’s obvious she has experienced this stuff. The chapters about Georgie and her new baby are so real they must have been based on real life. Drake seems to know exactly how the C-section stitches feel, how the breasts feel when she’s nursing, and how it feels when the baby’s skin touches her own.

I don’t know these things. I can guess. I can imagine. I can ask other people to describe them. I can read and search the Internet, but down deep, I’m faking it. Does that mean I can never create fictional characters who have babies? Then again, can I write about men, people of color, people of different religions, people working jobs I’ve never done, or people younger or older than I am? I hope, with enough imagination and research, I can write about all kinds of fictional characters, but I wonder if that’s true.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

One of those awkward childless moments

It never ends. I attended a high school alumni banquet with my 91-year-old father last week in San Jose. There are so few left in his class that now all classes that graduated from Campbell High School are invited to meet quarterly at the Elk's Lodge. It was a mostly elderly crowd. Presumably the younger grads are at work on a Friday afternoon. Even the "kids" accompanying their parents were older than me, and I just turned 62. One younger guy sat at our table, so cute, so nice. If he were single . . .

Anyway, the man sitting next to my dad, Al, only 89, was so sweet and upbeat, despite being in a wheelchair with his hands so gnarled he could barely eat. My father was born on Al's father's ranch. These guys have known each other all their lives. It was a pleasant afternoon with corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day, a raffle in which nearly everyone at our table won prizes, and great conversations. But--here it comes, my childless friends.

Dad and I were standing, getting ready to leave when Al said to me, "I'll bet he (Dad) spoils your kids rotten." Maybe I should have just said, "Sure does!" but I didn't. I told the truth. "I never had any kids. It just didn't happen for me." This father, grandfather and great-grandfather looked frustrated for a second, as if he didn't know what to say, then said, "He spoils your brother's kids though, doesn't he?" The truthful answer is "No, he's not that kind of grandpa." But I had blown his mind enough. "Yeah," I said and quickly asked about his own grandkids.

Al was just being nice, assuming the daughter in the good-girl outfit was a mom and that her father was a typical grandfather. Everybody has children, don't they? No. We know they don't, but it always seems to be a surprise when someone says, "No, I don't have any kids."

Al didn't ask why and it was the wrong place to go into the details, but I felt almost like I was being rude to not go along with the program. Know what I mean? Has this happened to you? Please share.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Career idea: baby cuddler

A Facebook friend recently announced that she had volunteered to be a "baby cuddler" at a daycare center. For a few hours a week, she holds, rocks and talks to babies. What a great idea. It helps the busy staff people who don't have time to just cuddle, and it gives my friend a chance to enjoy babies long after hers are grown.

So many of us never get a chance to hold babies, especially if we've never had any of our own. And they are such fascinating creatures, tiny people just discovering the world. For me, I'm always nervous around babies because I've never been around them much and also because I have always held back when there's a baby in the room. But what if I honestly said I wasn't sure how to do this but I wanted to learn? What if I got my friends and family involved in helping me bond with the babies in their lives? What if I asked them to coach me until I got good at it? What if I became the best "aunt" in the world?

Obviously we can't just grab any old baby. We'd get arrested for kidnapping. But there are ways to help mothers who never seem to have enough hands or enough time to deal with everything.

You might respond that you can't stand to be around babies because it reminds you that you don't have any babies of your own and might never have them. I understand. But you know what? It's okay to cry while you're holding a baby. Let those tears out until you start to see the wonder of what you have in your arms right now at this minute. And then when they get older, talk to them, play with them, teach them. With their parents' permission, of course.

We have can contribute to the world's children, even if we never have any of our own. If you're not ready, I understand. It has taken me a long time to get to this place. But don't give up on having a connection with kids, even if you never give birth.