By Catherine Savini

The Blame and the Shame of Miscarriages

I had my first miscarriage when I was 37. When I found out I was pregnant, I felt so intensely special. I was proud of myself for getting pregnant  so easily after 35. Less than two months into the pregnancy, I started spotting, and when I went to get my HCG levels tested for a second time, I learned that I was miscarrying.

That weekend, I was supposed to travel a few hours east to my hometown to celebrate my mom’s birthday. My mom, who developed a degenerative brain disease at 60, was turning 64.  I felt too fragile to go. I couldn’t imagine hiding my sadness and it didn’t occur to me that I could tell people. I had internalized the commandments of womanhood: you shall not divulge that you are pregnant before you and your fetus have made it through the first three months. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions, so I made up an excuse and skipped my mom’s birthday party.

In a recent interview on this site, a 57-year-old woman describes her miscarriage to her daughter. When her daughter, a millennial, curious about her mother’s reproductive history, asks her what she thinks caused the miscarriage, she responds, “It was not my fault.” When we were ready to publish the interview, this mom of two successful daughters asked that we use a pseudonym.

Why did this mom feel the need, twenty years later, to say that her miscarriage wasn’t her fault? Why did she insist we use a pseudonym? Why did I feel like I couldn’t just call my family and say, “I had a miscarriage. I’m sad. I’m coming to mom’s party.”

Here are some synonyms of the word miscarriage: failure, foundering, ruin, ruination, collapse, breakdown, thwarting.

She miscarried; she carried it wrong. She lost the baby. How reckless.

I guess it’s pretty easy to see why she felt she needed to explain, twenty years later, that it wasn’t her fault. I guess it’s pretty clear why I hid out after my miscarriage. Paula Knight, a graphic illustrator and writer, captures all the shame and blame associated with miscarriage in her powerful comics and drawings, which explore miscarriage and childlessness:

“Failed” by Paula Knight, 2012

What if men had miscarriages? Would they be called miscarriages? My guess is that the word for miscarriage would imply less blame. The fetus died? Spontaneous abortion?

We are taught from a young age to whisper and hide: we whisper about our first periods; we hide our tampons, shoving them in a pocket as we walk to the bathroom. I remember a salesperson at CVS being appalled when I didn’t want a bag to carry my tampon box out of the store. I was a twenty-something-year-old woman. Yes, I menstruated. Why should I hide it?

Maybe it shouldn’t be the woman who is pregnant and then not pregnant who is so responsible for everything, for the secrecy, for the carrying the burden of a loss, etc. Maybe others can learn how to respond to the loss of a fetus. Maybe people could just agree not to grill pregnant women or women who are in their childbearing years, not  to ask so many questions, and if someone has a miscarriage they can tell you or not tell you, and you can respond by saying, “I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”

It wasn’t until I had a miscarriage that the miscarriage narratives came pouring in. Hearing about others’ miscarriages made me feel less doomed, less broken, less of a failure. This is why it’s so important that 57-year-old mom shared her experiences with her daughter, even if she was not comfortable associating herself publicly with miscarriage. By sharing her miscarriage narrative, she normalized miscarriage for her daughter. Hearing others’ stories and knowing that miscarriage is fairly common (as many as 50% of all pregnancies) does not eliminate the pain that accompanies miscarriages, especially for women who’ve undergone multiple, but it does  go a long way in helping women feel less isolated, less ashamed, and less guilty.

The miserable feelings that accompanied my first miscarriage were compounded by my age at the time (37), by my childlessness, and by the fact that I didn’t know miscarriages were extremely common. What a relief it would’ve been for me to hear the miscarriage narratives before I miscarried. Maybe I would’ve been able to go to my mom’s birthday party.

Have a miscarriage narrative? A better term for miscarriage?  Share with us in the comments, write an essay, or be interviewed.

Read previous MotherShould? essays about miscarriage here.

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Selfish, Careerist, Regretful? Not the Childfree Women I Know

In this season’s House of Cards there’s a memorable scene between first lady and VP candidate, Claire Underwood and the presidential opponent’s wife, Hannah. The two  women are sitting across from one another drinking coffee in the White House residence and although they are on opposing sides, they are finding common ground around gun control and making the role of the first lady meaningful. Hannah manages to soften the normally rigid Claire by telling her she is a role model and that if she wins she’ll make an excellent vice president.

This moment of female bonding is interrupted when Hannah’s son jumps up and loudly asks for a drink. When Claire says that Hannah’s son is cute, Hannah unthinkingly ask Claire if she regrets not having kids. Claire’s stony face makes Hannah immediately apologize for asking a question that she admits is “too personal.” Claire pauses and responds pointedly in between sips of coffee: “do you regret having them?” And the scene ends.

This scene was so striking for a couple reasons:

First, it brings into sharp focus the assumptions our culture has about women who do not have children: they regret it.

It was actually on an episode of Oprah that I first confronted the powerful narrative of “woman pursues a career and regrets her decision not to have kids when it’s too late.” I was so frightened by this possibility that I remember the moment like you remember where you were when someone important died. I was in my late twenties, lying on my faded couch, hungover, in my Brooklyn apartment watching Oprah. I didn’t typically watch Oprah, but it was the comfort food my hangover brain craved. On Oprah’s stage sat a group of sad women in their forties; whether they were or not, I remember them dressed in suits. These women, in pursuit of their careers, missed the baby train, and they were gathered on stage to share their stories of regret. While I don’t remember their individual stories, the emotional weight of their collective regret stuck with me, and ten years later it motivated me to jump off the fence and get pregnant.

While this narrative helped nudge me in the direction that was right for me, for women who do not have kids it can be painful to have people  assume you live in regret. (See Ambivalent and Grieving and My Mother’s Day Wish.)

Second, the moment between Hannah and Claire depicts the divide between women who have children and women who do not. Perplexed by a woman’s choice to remain childfree in a pronatalist world, many mothers don’t really know how to talk to childfree women and as a result we judge, we say things that are unintentionally disparaging, and we ask questions we shouldn’t ask.

My husband and I both cheered at Claire’s response to Hannah, which  was dubbed a “feminist moment” by Bustle Magazine.

But while her response rang feminist, at another level this show is just reinforcing the confining narratives that exist for childfree women. Claire fits into the stereotype of the cold childless woman whose DNA is sequenced for ambition rather than motherhood. Just as there’s the virgin/whore binary, there’s the mother/ice queen.  As if to emphasize how anti-maternal she is, Claire’s character has had not one, not two, but three abortions. Claire is ruthless in her ambition–while she does not commit, she does condone the murder of people who stand in the way of her and her husband’s ascent to the White House.

So established is the stereotype of the selfish childfree woman that Meghan Daum titles her edited collection of essays of thirteen childfree women writers, Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed to mock the negative stereotype of women who chose careers (in this case creative careers) instead of motherhood. This book shows us that the decision not to have children tends to be responsible rather than selfish. After all, what good does it do a child to have a half-hearted mother? While Daum’s collection turns the selfish stereotype on its head, as a collection of essays by successful women writers, it reinforces a parallel narrative that has emerged: the super successful childfree woman.

This is the story, too, in Hillary Frank’s recent interview of Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air about her decision not to have children on the wonderful podcast the The Longest Shortest Time. Gross explains that she did not have any models for leading a successful career AND having a family, so she decided to pursue a career. She feels that her decision not to have children and pursue her career was a feminist act. I agree. Gross was a maverick.

That said, there was an underlying  if unintentional message in this interview and in Daum’s collection: if you are a woman choosing not to have children then you better be EXTREMELY successful, otherwise, how do you justify your decision? How do you justify your life?

So what roles are available for childfree women?

There’s the spinster and/or cat lady. One of my unmarried childfree friends who LOVES cats actually googled “how many cats can you have before you become a cat lady?” When the answer came back as “three,” she decided not to adopt a third cat.

There’s the successful woman–selfish or not– and she typically dislikes children. Then, there’s the woman who has achieved success but regrets not being a mom.

The stories we tell are powerful. These stories shape us for better or worse  (I had a child and my friend didn’t adopt a third cat), and they shape how we interact with one another. It is always the case that when a group is marginalized or othered, the roles available to individuals in those groups are limited. Acknowledging these limits and checking our assumptions when we interact with people from marginalized groups is a step in the right direction. What else do we need? We need more stories of typical childfree women who are just living their lives.

Sure there are wildly successful childfree career women, and some of them, like Terry Gross, might not want to snuggle babies. Sure there are old, childless women who have houses full of cats. Sure there are women who are consumed with regret for not having kids. But I don’t know these women.

The childfree women I know live rich and meaningful lives. There’s my friend Shoshannah, a metalhead with a black belt in karate, who regularly visits her mother who has had Alzheimer’s for nearly ten years. There’s my friend Melissa, a teacher who adopts and fosters dogs and regularly visits a youth detention center to offer pet therapy. There’s my friend Kerri, STEM teacher of the year and tireless Zumba instructor. There’s my friend Stephanie, writer, editor, bartender, PhD, and trailblazer. There’s my friend Jocelyn, a vegetarian, an animal lover, and  an artful wedding and family photographer whose calming presence enables her to capture genuine moments of connection. There’s my friend and co-editor for MotherShould?, a teacher, writer, knitter, sewer, crafter, perpetual student, and convener of porch nights for a community of friends.

The lives and stories of childfree women I know don’t adhere to the stereotypes yet the narratives persist. Likely, as more and more women make the choice not to have kids, childfree women will be able to just be. And that’s a good thing.

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Friends from First Grade: One Was Always Certain about Kids, the Other Was Not

In this week’s post I interview my friend since first grade about her desire to have children.

My friend Jill and I are a female odd couple: she is a suburban-living Republican* who devotes the time she’s not at work to carting her boys to every sport ever invented, with a special focus on sports that require you to wake up before sunrise and stand in the cold.

I am a Democrat who leans socialist and lives  in the woods in a town without a single stop light or gas station. I don’t watch sports on TV or in stadiums, on fields, or at rinks.

Jill is great with numbers and budgeting; I prefer words and glaze over whenever anyone talks about money.

She is blonde; I am brunette.

She always wanted kids; I never really did.

We’ve been friends since first grade and our friendship was cemented when her family moved across the street from mine when we were 8 years old, and since we want to stay friends, we’ve never sat down to better understand each other’s political beliefs, but we recently started talking about our different stances toward procreating. She has been following this website with great wonder because she is drawn in by the perspectives of women who don’t want kids or who are uncertain because these perspectives are so foreign to her.

In talking with her and her husband recently about her certainty, I heard a story I’d never heard before: after she got engaged, but before she got married she tried to convince her fiance to get pregnant immediately and not wait until after they got married. He refused; their honeymoon plans involved a cruise to Alaska and he didn’t want to be honeymooning with a woman miserable with morning sickness.

Jill got married at 30 so she had plenty of time to get pregnant. So, why was she in such a rush? I sat down with Jill this week in her home and asked her a few questions to get to the bottom of her maternal drive:

CS: When did you know you wanted kids?

Jill: I don’t remember a moment; I’ve just always wanted kids. I knew I wanted a lot of kids but I only had two. The turning point for me was when Brett, my cousin, was born; he is seventeen now. I went up to visit in New Hampshire when he was born. I  stopped going out and I started  driving the two hours there for the weekend. Part of it was that my aunt wanted help, but I started choosing to go there. I was 25 or 26 at the time, when I started going there once or twice a month as opposed to going out.

As soon as Brett came, I knew wanted that.

CS: Why do you think it is that you always wanted kids?

Jill: I have a brother who is ten years younger than I am so essentially I was an only child. I would go to my grandmother’s and all my cousins and aunts and uncles lived so close together, and I would go there and I was part of something. There was always something going on. There was always someone to talk to. And, we would just never sit around, but when I was home I was alone. I like being around people. Even now I don’t like to be alone.

CS: What about the fact that your brother IS so much younger than you, and it was almost like having kids? Or at least you got to see what having kids was like?

Jill: I didn’t raise him but I understood that it was a lot of work. I moved home at 23 for a year; he was thirteen, and it was his freshman year of high school  and I liked it. I took him to practice every day. I took him to school. I liked being part of his life.

CS: So you have maternal instinct?

Jill: I guess. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it well. I just means I wanted to do it.

CS: So you never doubted your certainty?

Jill: Never. I always thought I would have five kids.

CS: What prevented you from having five?

Jill: Money. I think if money wasn’t an issue, if kids were free, I could’ve talked my husband into more.

CS: Do you think you would’ve been happy with five children?

Jill: I do.

CS: I don’t. Not you. ME. ME. You’ve known me for 36 years, why do you think I was so wishy washy about having kids?

Jill: You know what you want, and you do it and with kids you get tied down and you can’t go for what you want. Say you want a degree. If you had kids fifteen years ago, it would’ve been a lot harder to get a degree.

Everything is harder once you have kids. Like travel. And, I think you have so many more things you want. I’ve always wanted to travel but not as much as I wanted kids. I knew I’d be giving that up and I don’t think you wanted to give up the travel.

CS: I don’t even think I got how much giving up there is. Do you think we grew apart when you had kids?

Jill: I don’t think so. Obviously we didn’t talk as much, but we haven’t lived near each other since we were in sixth grade. We can go a long time without talking and then it’s just normal.

CS: I remember being disappointed and sad that I’d never see you and then I would see you Christmas Eve, and you would have to leave early because you had kids. But now I understand it.

Jill: But we’ve definitely kept in touch. I have other friends that I’ve lost touch with and they HAVE kids. We got wrapped up in our own kids.

CS: Do you feel like it’s harder to stay friends with your friends who don’t have kids?

Jill: I do.

CS: We talk about different things now that we both have kids, don’t we?

Jill: It’s a common bond. You get it more. Until you live it, you don’t get it.

CS: Maybe people wouldn’t have kids if you did get it. You used to tell me that I shouldn’t have kids, why?

Jill: I think I worried motherhood would be too boring for you and you’d regret it.  Having kids would hold you back from everything you knew you wanted and had worked so hard for. I was also afraid you’d change and stories about trips to Nicaragua and Thailand would turn into stories about potty training and milestones.  Hanging out with you was always an adventure and if you had kids I would lose that adventure.  We’ve both changed and visiting you is different than pre-Quinn but it’s an adventure for everyone.  We’ve taken the boys to Disney and on a Caribbean cruise but when asked they say their favorite vacation was swimming and hiking in Becket.  Our adventures are now G rated but sharing them with the all of our boys is just as much fun.

CS: It’s true. I love how wonderful your boys are to Quinn: they play with him even though he can’t keep up [he’s 4 years younger than Jill’s youngest], they (and you) make him gifts, and they look out for him. He loves them so much that he talks about them even when he hasn’t seen them for months, and this makes my heart swell.

*In response to me calling her a Republican, Jill wrote me a text that read: “For the record I am a registered independent and have voted both ways. And you think you are the open minded one. 🙂 But leave Republican, it’s better for the story and I lean that way more as I get older.”

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Let’s Be Friends! Maintaining Relationships Between Women Who Mother and Women Who Don’t

Recently, a friend of mine, who has no children, mentioned that she was reading a book in the middle of the day. When I pictured her reading by a fire curled up on the couch drinking tea in her peaceful home, I was engulfed with envy: I want to read a book in the middle of the day in a quiet house! As this image solidified in my mind, my impulse was to say: “you don’t know how lucky you are!” but I managed to catch the words and swallow them. This friend could not have children and this would have been a cruel thing to say to her, but I realize now that it’s not really a nice thing to say to any woman because either way it is tinged with an underlying resentment, not an emotion I want to aim at my pals.

Since my friends started having kids, I began noticing how easy it is for tensions to surface between moms and the childfree/childless. Moms might think the root of the problem is that childfree women don’t know what we’re up against, but there’s more to it. In a recent “Dear Sugar” podcast, Steve Almond, father of three, admitted to, on occasion, resenting his childfree friends. Resentment is a strong and ugly emotion, but thinking back on some of my interactions with my childfree friends, I realize, reluctantly, that Almond is right on. If you miss your freedom at all, and what parent doesn’t, then your friends’ tales of independence or peace can make you feel taunted, even though they are just living their lives.

On the other side of the same coin, after I had kids, I noticed how easy it is to connect with women who are moms. Even with  drastically different beliefs and interests, mothers always have something to talk about: their kids’ potty training, sleep habits, eating preferences, first days of school, etc. Because, as we know, there’s no manual for having kids, and because most of us don’t live with our extended family, we often need to rely on friends and Google to figure out how to tackle the challenging moments of parenting. Friends and Google are the village.

Not only can moms rely on each other for problem solving, mom friends just get the struggle of motherhood. It doesn’t require explanation. This is comforting especially when you don’t have the energy to explain what it feels like when your child is waking up every two hours and not napping.

Pregnancy and motherhood do create a bond between women, but the opposite also tends to be true: a chasm forms between moms and not-moms. As a woman who had her kid late, I’ve been on both sides of that chasm. When I was childfree, I am sure I provoked resentment among my friends with young kids; I likely complained about a bad meal at a restaurant or being tired (and hungover) after a late night dancing. Now, I have an idea of what they might have been thinking in those moments: “quit your complaining, at least you can go out without spending a bazillion dollars on a babysitter and you can sleep through the night or take a nap–a nap!”

If my mom friends resented my freedom, I resented their lack of freedom and how our relationships changed when kids arrived on the scene. My mom friends couldn’t listen the way they used to or sustain a meaningful conversation. Kids affect individual relationships but there’s also the cultural weight of motherhood, which can make women who are not moms feel like they are not part of the club.

The term “the mommy wars” originally described the clash between working moms and stay-at-home moms, but now that there are more women choosing not to have kids, a new war is brewing. But a war between moms and the childfree/childless will not benefit anyone, so how do we stave it off?

Here’s my plan: I will resist the temptation to surround myself with people just like me; I will make a conscious effort to keep old and make new friends who are not moms. Part of making this effort means that I’ll need to notice and tamp down negative feelings that surface when a childfree friend talks about exercising, eating a delicious meal at a restaurant, seeing a movie in the theatre. I’ve traded in my freedom for a while; it was a choice I made, and I’ve gotten a lot in return. Truth is, I’m probably going to feel a little sad when I start to get my freedom back and my son needs me less.

I will also work on being a good friend to my friends without kids. To this end, I’ve fallen into a pattern of calling my friends with kids when my kid is around, but I try to call my friends without kids when my son is asleep or when I’m in the car alone so that I can give them my attention.  I want to be able to genuinely listen to the stories from their lives and I want to share mine. This is how friendships are maintained.

My friend and co-editor of this site, Beverly, does not have children, but we have made it our project to listen to and be candid with each other. Here’s a tiny example: typically, I would reserve the messy details of potty training my son for my mom friends, but I decided to tell Beverly, and she listened and instead of offering me a list of things I should(ve) tried, like most mothers do, she offered me something I actually needed more: a “wow, that must be really hard.”

It’s a Boy!: An Interview with Katy, Part 3


This is the third interview in a series with Katy, a 42 year-old creative director who at 35 decided to freeze her eggs and at 42 decided to go ahead with a donor. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. This interview reveals Katy’s good news!

MS: Last I talked to you, you were about to find out if you were pregnant, are you?

Katy: Yes! And it’s a boy!

MS: How do you feel about being pregnant?

Katy: I’m excited. When I first found out I was pregnant I was so stunned, grateful and excited. I felt so lucky that I got pregnant on the first try. Granted I went through IVF and had acupuncture treatments which greatly increases the odds… but still I felt incredibly lucky. It made me feel like I chose the right path.

I also felt terrified at times too, particularly in the first trimester… it was hard to let go of the safety of my single, child-free life as I have known it. It’s a major life change into the unknown and it made me feel uneasy and vulnerable at times. But reading books about parenting has helped me become more confident, which then makes me excited. Plus, when I’m around kids they fuel my excitement and then I feel like “I’ve got this.”

As far as how pregnancy feels in my body, I really enjoy feeling him kick, seeing the ultrasounds, the porn-star breasts and eating all the time… then there are other sensations and bodily changes that come along with pregnancy that aren’t so pleasant. But when I read about what’s happening each week in the baby’s development, it always amazes me and I’m reminded of what a gift it is to be pregnant.

MS: What are you excited about? What are you nervous about?

Katy: I’m excited to meet him and get to know him. I’m excited that this chapter of my life is starting: motherhood. I’m excited that I’m not on the sidelines anymore just watching others fulfill their dreams; I’m now jumping in and fulfilling my own dreams. But there are also so many unknowns that get me nervous. Will he be healthy? Will we bond? What kind of a monster will I turn into when I am sleep deprived? Will I have postpartum depression? Will he resent me because he doesn’t have a father?

MS: Before you were worried about finances and not meeting someone — what are your primary concerns now?

Katy: I’m still worried about those things, but I have focused less on when I’m going to find my partner. I think my larger concerns right now are how am I going to pull this off and still maintain my sanity… being a full time mom, working full time and getting enough sleep. I’m going to need help, so I’m sorting out where I will get this help from.

MS: You spent a good deal of time deliberating over this decision. Now that you are pregnant, how do you feel when you look back over those deliberations?

Katy: This was a major decision and I needed time to process it. But I wish I had started this process sooner. Sometimes I feel ambitious and think “maybe I’ll have another child” since I have more embryos, but my age may be an issue (I’m 42 now). It would have been nice if I was a few years younger, so I could have more flexibility with that decision in the coming years.

MS: Do people assume you have a partner or ask stupid questions about how you conceived?

Katy: Thankfully no. Maybe they assume that I got knocked up unexpectedly. But no one has asked me anything about my “husband” or how I got pregnant. When I tell people that I used a donor, they always respond with excitement and curiosity. They want to know all about the whole process. This has been a nice surprise. I spent too much time caring about people’s reactions before I got pregnant.

MS: Do you have any advice for someone considering freezing their eggs? Using a donor? Choosing to be a choice mom?

Katy: Freezing eggs: this is a no brainer for me, as you have nothing to lose… provided you can financially afford it. Just know that it can be hard on your body, and some people react strongly to the hormones.

Using a donor and deciding to become a single mom by choice: this is clearly a larger decision to make, and it needs some thoughtful consideration. There is no wrong or right decision here; it’s more about what choices can you live with. Do your research, check out Single Moms By Choice , read up on donor-conceived children , check out sperm banks (cryobanks) to learn about donors, read up on adoption processes, talk with women who have adopted, women who have used a donor and women who have decided not to have a child on their own…. decide which route is best for you. If you are considering a donor you know, meet with a lawyer to get the facts. And sometimes your finances or your health might dictate which route is best for you. The point is, there is a lot to consider… and you want to feel good about your choice. So research is key. Good luck!

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“Baby now, partner later. Not one or the other.” Interview with Katy, Part II

This is the second interview in a series with Katy, a 42 year-old creative director who at 35 decided to freeze her eggs. Read Part 1 here. This interview focuses on her desire for a relationship and her fear of being a single mother with a baby will prevent her from finding a partner.

MS: Did freezing your eggs make dating easier? Was it a kind of an insurance policy?   

Katy: I think it did help for a while, but I always had in the back of my mind that I might not have enough frozen eggs to get pregnant with, since the doctors said I might just get one embryo from my frozen eggs. I was always thinking about it. But I thought at least I have a backup plan and if that doesn’t work, I’ll adopt. I accepted the fact that I might have just one chance with my frozen eggs, but it didn’t allow me to totally relax. I was really surprised when it came time to fertilize my eggs that I actually got six embryos out of seven eggs. That was an amazing return!

MS: Congratulations!

Katy: Thank you. That was absolutely astounding!

MS: What concerns do you have about doing this by yourself?

Katy: Oh my god. I have a long list.

I worry about not having enough help, not being able to get enough breaks and being sleep deprived on top of that.

I’m worried about finances. I wonder about, what if I want to change my career in the future? Would I be locked into a certain financial bracket that limits my career options?

I’m also very worried about how I’m going to meet someone to partner up with and finding the time and energy to date. How do you balance that? Divorced parents have every other weekend where they can spend a whole weekend with their significant other, and I’m not going to have that and that really, really concerns me. That’s my number one concern with this decision. It’s very important to me that I find my life partner. Some women who choose to be single moms by choice are choosing to have a baby over a partner. For me, I’m not giving up on having a partner in order to have a baby. I want both. I can have both. I deserve both.

But I only have this time now to have a baby. For me, it’s baby now, partner later. Not one or the other. But how much later is that? And how many quality single guys are going to be out there?

The idea of never finding a partner really scares me for the loneliness factor. I think a baby will fill a portion of that need, but certainly a baby won’t replace my need for a partner. I want to have a family unit, beyond me and my child. It bothers me that I don’t have that. At least right now I don’t. I know there are advantages to doing this as a single parent. I don’t have to argue with anyone. I don’t have to worry about getting a divorce and fighting for custody. But I really had hoped that I was going to be doing this with a partner which is why I waited so long. It was really, really hard for me to let go of the dream. I don’t know that I have let go of it completely. I’m just re-imaging a different kind of family dream now.

Now that I’m actively trying to get pregnant I don’t want to meet someone because I don’t want them to stop me from having a baby. Even though I’m lonely and I want the company, I know myself. I know I can get all starry eyed on one date, and I don’t want another guy to make me postpone this anymore. Say this IVF cycle doesn’t work, and I have to go through it again, I don’t want this guy to cause me to postpone that next cycle. It’s just emotionally confusing to date while trying to get pregnant with donor sperm.

MS: You have a no dating policy right now?

Well, if a reliable source were to set me up I’d go on a date, but I’m not looking. I feel like I’ve had several relationships that have held me up from having a baby, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

For a while there, I wondered would I enjoy a child as much as I would if I were in a relationship. I worried I wouldn’t feel as much joy. I know the source of this worry was because I was feeling lonely and a little depressed and it was hard for me to imagine feeling that joy.

I don’t feel that way now. Once they thawed my eggs, fertilized them, and I got such an amazing return (six out of seven fertilized), there was something that shifted in me. I felt like this isn’t just good luck. It made me feel like I chose the right path. Maybe that’s naive, but I can’t help but feel like I made the right choice.

MS: Have you been telling people that you are going through this process and what are the reactions?

Katy:   I have told way too many people! I know they say not to tell people in case you have a miscarriage, but I needed a support network. I told a lot of people: neighbors, friends, some extended family, of course all of my immediate family. Everyone was so supportive, even the people who I was worried wouldn’t be supportive.

Another big concern I have is that my child won’t have a dad.  I worry about my child resenting me for bringing them into the world without a father. I have felt guilty about this but I think I’ve gotten past my guilt for the most part. It’s something I wished for my child, but that’s not happening now.

When I told a male coworker that my child would have three uncles as male role models, he said, “I’m glad to hear you say that,” because he wonders if women who pursue motherhood using a donor feel like a dad isn’t necessary. Maybe there are women who feel that way, but personally I had an awesome dad. I’m so grateful for that, and I’m sad that my child won’t have that relationship. My Dad was just amazing. By no means do I feel like a dad isn’t important. It’s just there isn’t one in the picture.

Having three uncles for my child makes me more comfortable. If my child ever got upset with me I would tell them I couldn’t imagine life without them, and I had to do it even though it wasn’t the perfect family unit.

MS: So you find out in two days whether or not you are pregnant. How does that feel?

Katy: It’s super exciting. I’m very excited. It’s crazy to think how this news will change my life. I found myself last night for the first time starting to think… what steps are next?, assuming that I find out I am pregnant. Then that thought induced some anxiety… the overwhelmingness of it all. There are things I need to work out, such as my job situation. I don’t have a full-time, salaried job, I have full-time contract work. I plan to work up until maternity leave, but I don’t know if I have a guaranteed job to come back to. I would like to stay in my house but I might need my mom’s help, and my house is too small for her to stay with me. So should I move in with her temporarily and rent out my house? These are things that give me anxiety.

MS: At every step this process was more complicated than you expected, more painful physically and emotionally than you expected. You are 42 now, what would you tell your 34 year self to do?

Katy: I would tell myself to do exactly what I did: harvest the eggs. I think I made a good call not to harvest more because it was hard on my body, but I would have told myself to start this process earlier. I would have told myself to research single parenting and donors even before I was ready to dive in. Just research the details of the whole process, mull it over at my leisure without feeling like I had to rush and process things at the same time. Not every woman feels the need to process emotions like I did. A lot of women jump right into it and have no problem so that was something that took me by surprise.

MS: You know a lot of women who are doing this. Do you think that made it easier for you to do it?

Katy: Yes, I have a close friend who did this, so luckily I got to witness her entire process years before I embarked upon my own. Also I reached out to the community of Single Mothers By Choice, but after I was deep into the fertility process. I had two previous IVF attempts and canceled them both because I had doubts. It would have been helpful to have known this group of women before I jumped in. Reaching out to this group helped quite a bit because everyone had different experiences to share, and it became less lonely to me to have a child as a single mom. It felt empowering in a way, like there’s a movement. All of these women are so brave and so vulnerable, they were so afraid and just did it anyway. It was really encouraging to hear a lot of them say, “Oh, I completely doubted myself. I wasn’t sure but I did it anyways.” They were there for every step of the way. Of course, once I started telling people that I was doing this, they started connecting me with other women they knew who had become single moms by choice.

MS: So, on Wednesday you find out if you are pregnant?

Katy: Yes, I go in for blood work and they will call me later to tell me the news. I want your readers to know that I was not sure about my decision before moving forward, but it was something I kept coming back to: I just have to do this or I’ll regret it if I don’t.

MS: What pushed you to just go for it?

Katy: In the spring, I considered not doing it but something kept bringing me back, and I would think, there’s no way I’m not doing this. But I couldn’t retain that “sure” feeling all the time. I was still really nervous. I would have days when I was gung ho and days when I didn’t know what I was doing. I averaged a freak out a week. At one point I just made the call to go for it, despite the fear and doubts.

I know this sounds strange, but once I made the call to thaw and fertilize my eggs with donor sperm, I kind of surrendered.

The whole thing is nerve wracking. Something I think that’s been helpful is reaching out to people often and regularly. Talking to people about what I’m going through has been helpful.

MS: Can we talk to you again after you find out if you are pregnant?

Katy: Yes!

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Choosing a Donor: An Interview with Katy, Part I.

Katy, a creative director from Atlanta, froze her eggs at 35 and started reviewing sperm donors at 41. At 42, after agonizing over the decision for a few years she decided she was ready to become a single mother by choice. Katy has agreed to be interviewed throughout this process.

MS: Was 35 the magic number for you?

Katy: Yes, because the doctors all said that 35 is the year when your fertility drops off significantly.

MS: Why did you decide to freeze them?  

Katy: I read a magazine article about egg freezing in my early thirties, and it stuck in my head. I don’t even know why I was thinking about that at the time. I knew I wanted kids, but I wasn’t worried about it happening. I was having fun and wasn’t in a hurry to become a parent. I remember around 34 my biological clock kicked in like a switch. The term really makes sense to me now. So, at 35 when my relationship didn’t work out I decided, okay, I’m going to freeze my eggs and buy some time. So I researched different fertility clinics in Atlanta and found the best one and went for it. Luckily my insurance at the time covered one round completely.

My doctors recommended doing more than one round because I didn’t have enough eggs. They collected eight eggs and one didn’t make it, and they said you need six to have one good embryo, and often it takes multiple attempts to get pregnant. They were hoping I would have 18 eggs. So I tried a second round and my body didn’t respond at all, which was worrying, so they told me to take a break and try again in six months.

I didn’t want to do it again. It’s really hard on your body. You have to take daily hormone injections that stimulate your follicles to be able to drop multiple eggs. I remember having to go to the doctor’s office every other day to check my hormone levels. Once they see you are at a certain level, they give you a trigger shot that tells your body to release all the eggs at one time. It takes about 36 hours for that to happen, so 36 hours later you are in the operating room, and they are scooping up the eggs. You go under general anesthesia, they go through your cervix with an instrument like a straw that scoops them up. You are crampy for a day. That wasn’t a big deal, but I definitely noticed that after I got off the drugs I had withdrawal symptoms and was very teary and emotional for months, which was why I didn’t do it again.

MS: Did you have reservations about freezing eggs in first place?

Katy: I didn’t. It was covered financially. I would have a backup fertility plan. I didn’t have to commit to anything at that point in time. It seemed like a win-win.

MS: When did you decide you wanted to go ahead with fertilizing your frozen eggs?  

Katy: It happened in stages.

I was dating this guy when I was 39 and he didn’t want kids, but I was hoping he would change his mind, and he was hoping I would change mine but neither one of us budged. We broke up because of this. That was the spring before I turned 40.  At that point I decided to go ahead and have a baby on my own.  Meanwhile I had not researched what was involved.  I didn’t know about the Pandora’s box of the donor realm. I thought, I will just buy some sperm and that’ll be it. I totally underestimated that.

That spring I had an exam to ensure my uterus was in good shape for conception and low and behold I had a polyp on my uterus, so I had to have it removed surgically because it would prevent an embryo from implanting.

Around that time, I went under contract on a house. Then I lost my job at the same time and found myself with a new house and no full-time job, so I wasn’t wanting to jump on the baby thing right away, and I didn’t want to give up the idea of having a baby with someone I love. So, I decided to date online for six months and see if I met anyone and if not, then I’d do it. It felt lonely, the idea of having a baby alone.

So when I started dating a new guy in the winter, I told myself I won’t think about the baby thing for a while. He said in the beginning that he wanted another kid (he already had a daughter), so I relaxed.

Fast forward several months, I turned 41 and really start feeling the pinch. So I ended up having a conversation with my boyfriend in September where I told him that I was feeling that biological clock pressure, yet I didn’t feel like we were at a point where we could make a commitment to each other. He agreed. He also told me at this point, “I’m not ready to have another kid.” Then he said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and have a baby using donor sperm since you were considering it before you met me. Then we can continue dating and see if things are right between us and if they are I can become the step-father of your child, if not we’ll go our separate ways.”

For some reason, that made sense to me at the time. It was like a green light to get pregnant!  It was comforting to be in a relationship and move forward with having a baby, rather than doing it entirely on my own. I just dove forward, I was over the moon excited about it. It was the first time, where I felt this real desire to go for it. Of course, I had his companionship all the time, so I didn’t feel lonely, but shortly after that conversation we started growing apart and ended up splitting up.

MS: How did you choose a donor?

Katy: I had a lot of trouble selecting a donor. I didn’t realize there was so much involved. It was not as simple as I expected.

There are known and unknown donors. Known is just how it sounds. You’ve met the donor, he could be your best friend or introduced to you through someone you know. One day someone suggested to me, “You always speak highly of your male friends, would one of them be willing to be a donor?” At first I thought absolutely not, but then I started thinking about it and became interested in the idea. On one hand, I could imagine a harmonious parenting scenario, but I knew they didn’t want kids. I decided not to ask them, just to process it. Then I met with a lawyer about the ramifications of using a known donor. She said if you have a child with a known donor and that child never sees the donor until adulthood, you can be pretty much be guaranteed that the donor can’t claim custody of your child. Also this route is very expensive, you have to go to court several times to tidy up paperwork. But if the donor sees your child, it opens the door for the donor to get custody of your child. As much as I would like to believe that would never happen with my friends, everyone I talked to had stories about harmonious situations like this, until the donor becomes really interested all of a sudden, wants custody of the child and it becomes a mess. I thought, oh my god, that sounds like a bad idea. So in the end I never talked to my friends about it, I went forward with an unknown donor. I feel good about my choice.

An unknown donor is through a cryobank. The benefits of an unknown donor are that they are pre-screened for HIV/STD’s, their entire family medical history, genetic diseases… information you might never know about your spouse. They have profiles set up, which is a lot like online dating, they list information such as their eye and hair color, height, weight, race, blood type, interests, occupation, education, social tendencies, family dynamics, etc. You can listen to an interview where they answer pointed questions about themselves, and most of them provide pictures. The information you get is pretty detailed. And, you know with an unknown donor that your child is legally yours. There’s no threat of the donor claiming custody of your child.

There are anonymous unknown donors and “willing to be known” unknown donors. Anonymous means your child will never meet or be able to make contact with the donor. Willing to be known means when your child is 18 the cryobank will set up an arrangement between your child and the donor. It can be a personal meeting, a phone call, or an email depending on the donor’s choice. They guarantee one meeting and then it’s up to your child and the donor beyond that. That was without a doubt a “must have” for me. I think it’s so important for my child to have contact with the donor. Of course, children are going to be curious about the biological father who’s not in their life, especially in their teenage years, and I want to grant my child the right to contact him. This led me to look for a compassionate donor. I was really looking for clues into his character. I wanted some assurance that he’s not going to bail out years down the road and go MIA.

MS: What concerns did you have about using a sperm donor?

Katy: I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to accept emotionally. For a while there I was having an issue with the whole idea of a stranger’s sperm mixed with my own eggs and inserted into my body. I would be having a baby with someone I’ve never met!

That was really hard to accept. I changed my donor twice. I kept having little issues with the first two donors. It seemed like nitpicky stuff, but I think part of it was my process of getting comfortable with using a donor.  The first time I selected a donor, I was not ready yet. I started my IVF cycle before I had even picked out a donor, which is not a good idea. I didn’t realize how much there was to process emotionally. Ultimately I had to accept my circumstances. Okay, I thought, these are my choices: I can use a sperm donor, I can adopt or take my chances that a relationship will work out where we have children together. I finally reached a point where I felt like I not only needed to move on it but I was ready to.

I learned over time that I had to reframe how I thought of this donor, so that I could feel comfortable with it because I knew in my heart it was important to me to have a genetic child. If I couldn’t have a genetic child I would happily adopt or foster, but I had those frozen eggs waiting for me giving me the chance for a genetic child.

I was also focused on finding a cryobank with a low family limit. When you use a donor through a cryobank they have limits on how many families they sell one donor’s sperm to. The average U.S. limit is 25 families which could easily mean 50 kids per donor, sometimes more. And there’s no great monitoring system in the U.S. The scary part about using an unknown donor is not knowing how many half siblings exist and wanting to make sure your child won’t become romantically involved with a half sibling one day.

There is a network called the Donor Sibling Registry. They set up an international registry for donor-conceived kids to connect with other kids conceived by the same donor. The parents can find out about any genetic health problems other half siblings may have. It’s also a good way to see how many other half siblings are out there and where they live. A lot of these extended families are getting together and having their own family reunions. When I was first reading about this, I was thinking, there’s something kind of cool about this… these extended families.

MS: What characteristics did you look for in selecting a donor?

Katy: Someone who has a clean medical record, no history of cancer in his family, is well educated, seems like a warm-hearted good person, has a similar ancestral background to mine and is attractive. And these are all qualities that my current donor has.

The first donor I picked out looked like my ex-boyfriend, and initially I liked that. But I ultimately became worried about looking at my child and seeing my ex-boyfriend in his face, so that was one reason I changed to a new donor.

Ideally, I wanted someone who was not just doing this for the money but also wanted to help people conceive. Of course, money is what drives someone to do this so that was hard to find. These guys are mostly college students, my guy was a law school student. He was an accountant preparing for the bar when he donated.

His spirit was the thing that made him stand out against the others. He sounded like someone I would naturally be attracted to.

He was also compassionate. He spent a summer in Costa Rica saving sea turtle eggs. I got to witness sea turtles laying eggs when I was in Costa Rica, and it’s really magical. There’s this whole thing about sea turtles returning to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs. My point is something that seemed magical to me was important to him, so that drew me to him.

I was left with a good feeling about him, I stopped questioning what I was doing and felt comfortable using his donated sperm.

How Kids Changed My Definition of Fun

Happiness studies suggest that we humans are bad at knowing what makes us happy and that having kids does not; in fact, it decreases marital satisfaction, and according to one study, women rated housework as preferable to taking care of their kids. In response to these studies, some argue that there are different kinds of happiness: pleasure in the moment and pleasure reflecting on our past. Sure, they say, kids decrease daily pleasure and increase daily stress, but parents experience joy in reminiscing and the satisfaction of raising a decent and productive human being (if all goes well). But what is often overlooked in these discussions is pleasure born out of deprivation.

After living in New York City for a decade, I started to find it hard to get excited about anything. We saw live music all over Brooklyn, ate amazing meals, watched movies in the park under the Brooklyn Bridge, danced at PS1 or the Williamsburg Pool Parties, enjoyed boozie brunches, and hula hooped in Prospect Park. This list makes me drool now, but it was my norm, and my pleasure senses dulled. One night at a bar, a Huey Lewis line popped in my head, “I want a new drug.” I had gotten bored with my fun and my freedom, and ironically what I actually needed was to make my life more boring and more taxing so that the fun things would feel fun again.

I’ve always enjoyed working hard or even depriving myself to rediscover the pleasure in something: beers after a frigid New England day on the slopes, the first piece of chocolate after giving up junk food for Lent, the first cup of coffee after quitting caffeine, and sleeping in a bed after a few nights in a tent. In an episode of Radio Lab, a man hiking alone in the South Pole digs up a bag of Cheez Doodles that he buried for himself 86 days before. The video of this exhausted, starving adventurer digging this treat out of the snow is moving: he hollers, he dances, he experiences full-on bliss. Every day of having a kid is like hiking the South Pole and something as simple as dinner and a movie or sleeping in is that hard-earned bag of Cheez Doodles.

Of course, you don’t have to have kids to achieve this contrast. People find all sorts of ways, both big and small, to make their lives harder so that their free time is more satisfying. We train for triathlons and marathons, spend weeks of our vacations building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and hike the South Pole.  (It is worth noting that most of the world doesn’t have the privilege of reaching a fun saturation point and does not need to manufacture difficulty.)

My mom once said, “don’t wait too long to have kids or you’ll be too selfish.” If I waited too long, she thought, I would become too accustomed to the freedom of living single in a city, a freedom she never experienced, but what neither of us knew was that bathing in freedom can feel a little like drowning and that the limits parenthood puts on your life can actually liberate you to find fun and even excitement in the smallest, most blasé freedoms.

When I lived in New York, a birthday meant drinks and dancing with all of our friends. This past year on my birthday, my husband, a nurse, was scheduled to work 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., which meant that I would have to leave work on a dark and freezing February night and drive an hour to pick up my son at my in-laws and then another thirty minutes to get home and get my son fed and ready for bed. At the last minute, my husband called to tell me he got the night off and that he’d ordered pizza. I was ebullient.

 

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From Certain to Ambivalent back to Certain: An Interview with Liz

An elementary school teacher and part-time unit coordinator in a birthing unit, Liz is 38 and 14 weeks pregnant at the time of the interview. Liz immigrated to the U.S. from England when she was six and she became a U.S. citizen at the age of 36.

MS: Have you always known you wanted kids?

Liz: I always knew that I wanted kids and then I started to doubt that I wanted kids. I always wanted kids. When I was six someone asked me what I wanted to do for a living and I said that I wanted to be a mom.  But then, years went by and I was single and I think I was pretty depressed about being single and then

around 30 I was like, maybe I just won’t be a mom and that’ll be fine.

And all of my friends were having kids and whenever I hung out with them it felt very overwhelming and I thought, oh maybe not, maybe I don’t want that.

MS: So you went from certain to ambivalent and then you met Jeff?

We had been dating maybe a month, and he said one morning, do you want kids and I said, yeah. And that sort of surprised me too. And I said, does that make you nervous? And he said, yeah.  But it was my gut response.

Liz: When you were younger you envisioned yourself having kids, when did you think you would start?

Probably my mid-twenties. My mother had her kids when she was 24, 26, 30 and then I started to be those ages and I thought, I could not have a kid. Even if I had been in a relationship, I don’t feel like I was capable of having a kid at that point.

MS: What do you think is different?

Liz: My mom met my dad when she was 15. It’s just generationally different. They got married and had kids. And, I think that because of the internet and travel being cheaper, we have a million other things to do, whereas marrying young doesn’t happen as much.

MS: Do you think there are any drawbacks to waiting until you are over 35 to have kids?

I think the drawbacks to having kids later probably measure out to the same as having them earlier. You have less time with them more than likely. My kids will have less time with me than I have with my parents.

Hopefully, I’ll be a more patient and better parent than I would have been ten years ago.

I think I have more empathy than I used to. As a teacher, I am more able to put myself in another parents’ shoes and look for the best in kids rather than just reacting to them.

MS: How has teaching impacted your perception of parenting?

Liz: I think that teaching and seeing so many parents and families makes me realize that for 95% of people everyone is trying to do what’s best for their kids. I can’t always figure out how that works in their minds.

MS: Do you think your age has affected your pregnancy in any way?

Liz: I doesn’t seem to have. I’ve been to the maternal-fetal medicine specialist because my mom had problems and because I am advanced maternal age, and they said, everything looks really good. I can’t complain about anything in my pregnancy except for the nerves. I haven’t felt sick; I haven’t thrown up. I feel fine.

MS: What is making you feel nervous?

Liz: I know that this baby needs another ten weeks of gestation. It’s just that unknown. Every ache pain, cramp, everything I put in my mouth, can I eat that, can I not?

MS: Do you think you would’ve been as nervous if you were younger?

Liz: Yes. All my lab results are good. I just think until this child comes out and both of us are responsible for it, I’m the only one responsible for it. I wanted a sip of wine the other day and our doctor said no, and I said to him, it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about feeling normal. I feel fine, but I never feel normal anymore because every single thing I put in my body, every action I do, I think about this baby.

MS: Do you think that’s healthy?

Liz: No. I do think that because the American College of Gynecologists wants to cover their asses they are doing a lot of telling you you can’t have certain things so I then look up, well does Europe do that? If Europe and America agree, then I won’t eat it, but smoked salmon, England eats, so I’m going for it.

MS: How has working in a birthing unit impacted your perception of pregnancy and delivery?

Liz: I switched to a midwife recently and I was talking to the nurse when making the appointments and she said I had to have a doctor to go along with my midwife and she said this particular doctor is very blunt and then this other doctor will talk to you for hours. And I said, who has the lowest C-section rate? That was my deciding factor because, when a woman has been in labor for hours and the red sox game is coming on, I’ve seen doctors make the call to do a C-section.

MS: If you could give your 25 year old self advice about pregnancy and motherhood, what would you say?

Liz: Vanity speaking, I now show and most people at 14 weeks don’t show. I read that because my core was not solidly in shape, that there’s no muscles holding in my uterus. I would tell myself to be in good shape. The better shape you are in, the better your recovery will be.

MS: Sometimes there’s friction between mothers and non-mothers, have you ever experienced this tension?

Liz: So many of my friends have kids and I always tried to be very understanding. I always really liked babies and I would go over and help out. I think I had a hard time when I was a non-mom not by choice. I had a particular friend who, it was right around when my dad died, and she found out that she was having a second boy and she told me about the “grief” she was experiencing, from this planned, health pregnancy!–because she was having a boy instead of a girl, and I had a really hard time forgiving that. She and I had talked very openly about how much I did want kids and it wasn’t in the cards. So for her to use the word grief, I was so taken aback.

MS: Do you think it’s a trend of moms to be insensitive to nonmoms?

Liz: I was just at a cocktail party with a woman who told me she was trying to get pregnant and had done six rounds of IVF, and everyone who came into our conversation and just found out I was pregnant would try to talk about it, and I would try to steer the conversation to anything else.  I was not feeling guilty but feeling this poor woman does not need to hear about all of these things when she is going through this.

MS: Do you think being pregnant at an advanced maternal age helped you develop the sensitivity to steer the conversation that way?

Liz: Yes, knowing the feeling of longing to have kids and not being in a position to have them. Those conversations are not where you want to be. I didn’t always want to hear the pregnancy talk from my friends with their big bellies, but I listened.

If Not Kids, then Something Substantial: Interview with Melissa

Melissa is a 42-year-old middle-school math teacher with two dogs. She regularly takes her husky, Takoda, to a youth detention center to provide pet therapy, and she spends her summers traveling.

MS: Do you want kids?

Melissa: So, I never say “no,” but I guess I never say “yes, definitely.”  I always thought that I would.

I never thought, “I’m never going to have kids” until recently. I said it out loud for the first time the other day to my friend.  I was surprised that it came out so naturally.

I just had a birthday, and you hear all the time that after a certain age, don’t even think about it. Even if I met someone tomorrow, having kids would still be years off.

MS: What do you think made you say it out loud? Do you think it was turning 42?

Melissa: I don’t know if it was the age or the thought that I’m never meeting anyone. Never. Ever.

MS: Can you separate having kids from meeting someone?

Melissa:

I thought about having one on my own, but I just think my life would change too much, and I don’t know if I have the support system for it.

So much of my time is spent making money, and I would have to give that up plus put money in. Kids cost a lot when you don’t have a built in baby sitter.

MS: You have a lot of time to meet someone. Do you feel like you are not going to meet anyone because you are past childbearing years?

Melissa: I think when I meet people casually, as soon as they find out how old I am, it changes their point of view. There are men who have an idea what a good age is for a mate, whether they want kids or not. That’s my experience.

Men don’t have to worry about running out of time.

The other thing is: I don’t feel like I can’t have a baby.  I don’t feel like my body is old. I feel healthy and young. But my body inside could tell me something totally different.

MS: What about when you see celebrities having children in their late forties?

Melissa: Then, I think, “Oh, maybe I can.”

MS: Would you consider adoption?

Melissa: I’ve thought about fostering. So much would have to change. I don’t think my brain has fully wrapped around time for me to rush into doing anything.

MS:  Do you think you could be happy if you met someone and didn’t have kids?

Melissa: Yeah, I definitely think so. That’s the only time I get upset. I just teared up a little bit. What if I do meet someone, and he really wants kids and it can’t happen. Or, if I really want kids because I love the person that much.

MS: When you were little did you envision yourself having kids?

Melissa: Yes, I’ve always said. “when I have kids…”

MS: If you fell in love with a guy who didn’t want kids, would you pursue a relationship with him?

Melissa: If he told me right off the bat, I would still date him. And if I fell in love with him, and he said let’s go travel all the time, that would be fine with me. I would need something of substance to take that space other than the normal get up have breakfast, go to work, then have dinner.

I would need something to take the place of kids.

We could buy a bigger house with a lot of land to foster dogs. Do something more giving. I foster dogs. Not only do I have my own two dogs, but I hold dogs and take care of them until they can be adopted. That would fill that need.

MS: What do you think are the advantages of not having kids?

Melissa: I can do anything, for the most part. I have to make sure someone can come and let my dogs out. So, I can’ be totally spontaneous.

Little things: my house doesn’t have to be spotless all the time. I can nap in the middle of the day. I napped yesterday, and I thought, so many people can’t do this because they have kids. I don’t have to think about being frivolous with my money. I can spend it on whatever I want to. I suppose these are little things compared to being a mom.

But, sometimes I listen to the radio in the morning and all the people do is complain about their kids. I see the misery that my parents went through, and I don’t know. I know there are so many good things, but there’s so much sacrifice. And you’re glad to do it once you become a mother, or at least you do it.

My friend has fertility issues, and she was at a party and a woman with three kids turned to her and said, “you are so lucky you don’t have kids.” My friend said to me when she was telling me the story: “lucky” is when you have a healthy child. If you don’t have kids, you either chose not to or you are unlucky.

MS: If you could tell moms how to be more sensitive and kind to people who are not moms, what would you tell us?

Melissa: Being a mother requires sacrifice but for most people who are mothers it’s something they chose to do. Don’t judge me because I didn’t follow the same path as you.

MS: Has anyone said anything insensitive?

Melissa: If people ask if I have kids when they meet me and I say “no,” they respond “Oh” and say something to the effect of: “What do you do with your time then? What makes your life important?”

I also hear it from my students, “Oh, you don’t have kids. Oh. Really?” I say, “no, I have fur babies.”

melissa's dogsMS: Do you feel like having dogs scratches the mom itch at all?

Melissa: A little bit. I have to nurture them. I have to make sure they are good dogs for their society. But I can leave them home for hours without someone taking care of them. When I’m working I have to make sure someone comes and walks them and lets them out. And the financial part of taking care of dogs is a fraction of taking care of kids but it is still vets and good food. When my dog had one little rash, we were in for hundreds of dollars. I guess I get worried and nervous. They are like babies because they can’t take care of themselves. So it helps it a little bit.

MS: What about teaching?

Melissa: Teaching makes me understand why I’m okay not having kids.

MS: Are there things you’d have to give up if you had kids that you’d be sad to give up?

Melissa: Well, I go out all the time. But, then I ask myself: if I had a significant other, would I want to stay out so late?

MS: If you could give your 22-year-old self a message what would it be?

Melissa: I’ve had so many relationships that I didn’t fully commit to thinking there’s something better, and  I don’t think I ever let myself see if the relationship was working. I would tell myself to be more open minded and give the relationship a chance to work.

MS: If you could give advice to a 30-year-old woman who didn’t know if she wanted kids, what would you say?

Melissa: I would advise someone to not have kids just because society tells them to. That’s the wrong reason. You need to do it because you want to and because you think you’ll be able to give the best life possible. I see it all the time: house, marriage, kids. Sometimes I don’t think people actually sit back and think, maybe we don’t want kids, and if we don’t it’s okay.

I never made up my mind either way.