Monday, June 9, 2014

Whose Side Are You On?

Our Guest Blogger, Melanie Holmes, offers her perspective as a mother who chooses to respect a woman's choices rather than pick sides. Holmes writes:

BeyoncĂ© is not “feminist enough.”

bell hooks is “too feminist.”

Some women are not “mom enough” because they don’t wear their babies, breastfeed, or co‑sleep. 

Others are not “woman enough” because they don’t want motherhood.

When are we going to refrain from trying to define what “fulfilled” or “happy” looks like for each other? 

I am a mother of a teenage daughter whose life is spread out before her, and I absolutely refuse to define “happiness” for her.    

Happiness is subjective.  Calista* always dreamed of being a teacher.  What she didn’t dream of was being a mom.  Calista doesn’t volunteer her thoughts on this topic because she feels embarrassed by the reactions she receives.  Knowing I’m a mother who believes in the right of every woman to decide if motherhood is the right path, Calista remarked, “I’m so glad there are people like you on our side.” 

Because of my refusal to espouse one side or the other, the book I’ve been writing for three years was passed over by a major publisher who thought I needed to pick a side.  However, that would defeat my entire thesis, which is:  We need to equip females with the facts and then give them the freedom to decide if they want motherhood.  What makes my voice unique is that I am a mom.

Often, women who are moms espouse sentiments such as, “My life was meaningless until I became a mom.”  But do women really mean this or are they gushing about the love they feel for their children?

I have interviewed/polled 200 women, mostly in the U.S.  Overwhelmingly, women hold assumptions about other women – that down deep, women who aren’t moms miss out on the quintessential female experience.  But assumptions are discrete from words.  Only half the moms said they would cajole their daughters toward motherhood if they heard ambivalence.  The other half said they would respect their daughters’ journey.  One mom said, “Motherhood is too personal a choice for me to interfere.” 

Dating to the 18th century, mothers have fought for women’s rights, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Perkins Gillman.  Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was…broken-hearted with the…injustice I saw.”  She was referring to the slave trade, and babies torn from their mothers’ arms.  20th-century activist Tillie Olsen spoke out against the silencing of voices of those disadvantaged by gender, class and race. 

Madelyn Cain joined her voice to Wollstonecraft, Perkins, Stowe, and Olsen by writing The Childless Revolution in 2001.  Cain shed a light on the realities of 21st century women who are not mothers ‑‑ that they are not selfish people living empty loveless lives.    

Words matter.  And it matters who says the words. 

I add my name to the list of mothers who wish to speak up for women’s rights as a way of paving a smoother road for their daughters.  By fighting for justice for all women, my daughter will benefit.

My husband and I are cautious of the scripts we use.  Rather than saying to our daughter, “When you have a child…” we say, “If you ever have a child…”  I want her to hear the things I never considered while growing into the woman that I am.  This is not to say that I regret being a mom.  But that’s my journey.  And it may not be my daughter’s.  After all, she’s only 16. 

As women come to grips with how much the world has changed over the past few decades, they also need to come to grips with each other.  This is not dodge ball.  We shouldn’t divvy up sides.  As women, we should all be on the same side.

* Name has been changed.

Photo Credit: R.L. Holmes

Monday, May 19, 2014

Over 40 and No Regrets!

They said you would change your mind. They said when you got older you would regret it.
This is what we childfree folks hear all the time but studies and anecdotal evidence, including my original research for the Childless by Choice Project, tells a different story.

Like the experience of this over-40 couple living in Canada, where the majority of married couples live in "child-free" households. Here is what Barbara Fletcher, a happily-married childfree woman, writing for YZ, had to say:
It’s a tough thing to say out loud: I’m a happy non-mom. I grew up in an era where life’s end goal was to find wedded bliss and have a family, and an awkward procreation question can still surface when meeting new people at parties. Being a non-mom can feel peculiar when 99 percent of your friends are parents — and really great ones: the kind of attentive, loving moms and dads who pour all of their energy into making their children’s lives enriched and, well, pretty damned amazing.
I suspect that I’m the kind of person that married parents might not want to hear about: married, on the other side of 40, childless and happy . Not happy because I am childless, but happy in my childless life.
Being happy is largely a choice we make as we make conscious decisions about what we do or think. Happiness is not conditional on the number of children you bring into the world. 

Unless you make it so...

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Not a Mother" Mindfulness

Last month a received an email from Maaike, a woman from the Netherlands who shared one of her blog posts with me.
I was very impressed and touched by the way she honored her decision not to have children. I will share an excerpt here and invite you to click here to see the whole post:
"Everywhere I go, everywhere I am, I set up altars for the woman in me who will not be with child and will not give birth to a child. A choice. My choice. Every day I take a little bow to this choice and to the woman that I am today. And every day I check with myself if this choice still feels right, making sure that this is my path - that this is my life I need and want to live. Then I take a deep look in my husband’s eyes – he is inextricably linked to the choice that I made – and I know it’s right. I won’t wake up one day regretting this choice and blame him or myself for it. 
"Honoring the importance of this choice I decided to make this choice every single day all over again. But it is since a little while that it feels different. It's not just a choice anymore. It's changed into the realization that I will not become a mother for sure. Not only because it's my choice, but also because I am a woman of 39 and I truly feel that I am too old to become a mother. After losing a close friend earlier this year – this new awareness hit me really hard.

"I share all of this with you my fellow sister, because I need you and other women to read this - to know this. This is important. Choosing to become a mother is a choice for the rest of your life but so is the choice to not become a mother. Regret is too high a price to pay - either way."
I, too, reaffirm my decision not to have children even though that option for me is past. It feels good to check in with myself again, and again, and know it still is the right decision for me. How about you?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Valquiria's Story

I recently received an email from a woman who wanted to share her personal story about what can happen when you say "Yes" to starting a family when your heart and mind says "No."
To protect her privacy, we agreed we to use a pseudynom. This is Valquiria's story:
I’ve been married for 16 years and my husband and I live in Brazil. My husband always knew about my lack of interest in having children, but both of us thought, over the years, that something would awake in me that would make me want to be the mother of his kids. But that day never came. What came was his invitation to start trying seriously for a pregnancy because he wanted so badly to be a dad.
For fear of losing him, I relented.
The first time I had a delay in menstruation, I panicked.  I had never felt so sorry for a decision. I told my husband what was happening; that I was scared and it was not the time for me to be a mom. Fortunately, it was only a false alarm. But then I made my real mistake: once again, for fear of losing his love,  I let him think we would continue trying.
Meanwhile,as my true self continued manifesting, my husband showed me, excitedly, kid and maternity stuff, but that only made me want to run away and to be closer to my animals ( yes, I am a rescuer ). Time passed by, and the dreaded and inevitable questioning came. In a painful conversation, I told him I had agreed to try for children just for love – my love for him. Well, it happened that he did not take it well. I went through a long ordeal of psychological abuse and maltreatment. I had to hear very hard and offensive things, like “I’m wasting my time with you”, “I’m not nice to you because you don’t give me children”, “this is not a real marriage” and so on.
Apparently after some sort of inner struggle, he decided he would stay with me anyway. I don’t know whether this is a permanent decision for him. I’ve NEVER regretted my choice. I don’t want to parent ANYONE. However, it’s been a long journey to regain my self-confidence; and I’m having a hard time trying to be okay with the fact that I HAVE to consider and love myself more than anyone else. My feelings hurt not because I might, later in my life, regret not having sons and daughters, but because I’m breaking his heart.
I’m a 40 year old healthy woman. I got married for love and for love only. Contrary to what people think, choosing a childfree life doesn’t make me a bad or selfish person; it just means I have the courage to be true to myself. And this is priceless. If I could be of any help to anyone passing through a similar situation, I’d gladly help. We all have our reasons for not having kids.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Kids Don't Make Me Happy

I have to give Kudos! to Matt Walsh, a Canadian blogger and father of twins for writing this post My Kids Don't Make Me Happy

As a life and leadership coach who specializes in decision-making (including reproductive), I always say "One choice or the other will not make you happy. Happiness is a choice."
Matt made this point: 
My kids don't make my happiness. That isn't their job. My happiness isn't a responsibility that falls on their tiny little shoulders. Kids come into this world helpless, naked and needing, yet so many of us immediately shove them into the Happiness Factory and bark commands. "Get on the assembly line and build me some happiness! Quick! Do your duty, sir!" This is precisely why many mommies and daddies are NOT very happy people. Many are lost, confused and disappointed. They are anything but happy because they were fooled into thinking that they didn't conceive a human -- they conceived a little happiness generator. They were fooled, in many instances, by parents who know better.

Yeah, you have heard those parents. I call them the parenthood lobbyists. They say "it's the best thing..." or "You are missing out..." but they are only telling part of the story. The trick is to tune the lobbyists out and focus on what you really want and what your partner really wants. Then, whatever you choose, whatever the outcome, you can still choose to be happy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking Control at End of Life

What happens when you get old? It's an annoying question, I know, but even more annoying when you don't have an answer.

That is why I was thrilled to see NY Times Blogger Paula Span, elder care expert, tackle this issue head on and write in detail about the importance and challenges of a having a health care proxy.
While you may be able to convince a trusted relative, lawyer, doctor, or nurse to be your proxy, they may not feel comfortable in that role, writes Span:

"Geriatric care managers seem a better fit; they’re comfortable in hospitals and nursing homes and charge lower hourly rates than lawyers. Karen Wasserman, director of Your Elder Experts, part of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, serves as surrogate for a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor with no family, and she’s starting to see healthy people in their 70s putting their paperwork together and asking her staff to take that role.
“I don’t see it as that big a leap,” Ms. Wasserman said. “Often, it’s continuing the work we do anyway, advocating for our clients,” whom the staff has often known for years. “It’s often an honor to be there for these people. It’s part of the deal.”

There are childfree folks out there that would, literally, rather die than relinquish control of their end of life decision-making and that poses another challenge. Are we ready as a society to let them make that choice, like Switzerland allows through the Exit organization? You tell me?

Photo credit: Flickr Photo by Flatbush Gardener

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Parents Supporting Their Childfree Children

I have been very fortunate in the fact that both my parents have always supported my choice to remain childfree. This is not always the case for childfree folks, as I documented in my book Two is Enough and the documentary film The Childless by Choice Project. Some parents do put a lot of pressure on their children to produce the grandchildren. Other parents just can't understand why.

I had a really happy childhood, with a Mom and Dad who were excellent role models for Parenthood. Yet I chose to remain childless by choice, not because I didn't know how to parent but because I didn't think parenthood was a good role for me.

I can't tell you how many times people have told me, "Oh, you would be such a great mom!" And maybe I would be but I am convinced that had I been a mother I would have experienced many  unhappy and frustrating days wondering why I had chosen this path when other paths seemed so much more appealing and natural for me.

This is why I was glad to see Barbara Walters, one of the hosts of  the current events show The View defend her daughter's decision to remain childless.  As a career television journalist, Barbara Walters knows more than most women how difficult it can be to navigate motherhood and career and clearly she is very proud of her daughter, saying that she's very caring and loving, particularly to old people like herself.
One of the other women on the panel already had a child but was planning for more and couldn't wait for the opportunity to breast-feed a baby. You could tell by the faces of the other women on the panel that breast-feeding an infant was definitely not something they were wishing for as they lay their head on their pillow at night. And this is why The View's panel of five women works so well and why we tune in. These five women are a diverse group from all walks of life and they have a variety of experiences and opinions about issues that concern us all.  Yet they can agree that parenthood is not for everybody and recognize that although they would happily choose parenthood for themselves they can understand why some women and men may not want what they want.

If these five women of The View wanted the same things, believed the same things, and held the same opinions  we wouldn't be watching the show.  
Lucky for us, and lucky for the networks who profit from these shows, we respectfully disagree!