Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Not a Mama at Menopause

Apparently I have some “inner work” to do. Lately my brain is whirling like an Oklahoma twister. Lots of debris swirling around, transforming, shifting the old ideas about who I am.

Scary stuff, sometimes, but apparently necessary. A new phase of life has been forced upon me, whether I like it or not.

Now that I have officially passed the ability to have children without having any children, I am second guessing my childfree life.

I did not see this little “gift” of the Big M. coming, but here I am, feeling a bit bereft.

For the most part, I am content that birthing and rearing a child has not been part of my life. Of all the many reasons, (some under my control and some not) why I am not a mother, perhaps the strongest reason is that I don’t have much of a mother-instinct.

Not every woman has a strong mother-instinct. To put it mildly, this isn’t a popular sentiment to voice. I like babies and children; I never had a strong urge to have one of my own. This may seem bizarre and unnatural, but I always kind of smugly congratulated myself for realizing this lack of motherly feelings and then not fighting against these feelings and having kids anyway.

There were sweet moments when I enjoyed cuddling other people’s babies, truly marveling at the mysteries of birth. But when I handed the babies back, I was fairly happy to do so. Some women have an almost unbearable urge to have children, and motherhood is the fulfillment of a dream for them. They are meant to mother.

I respect that mothering need enormously, even if my childlessness has made me an outsider to a lot of what is central to most women’s lives. Childlessness makes me a bit defensive, too, as if I need to justify why I’m childless, or explain that I’m not evil, or emotionless because I’m not a mother.

For instance, I feel obliged to note that by teaching college students, I have had a turn at being a mother figure. Our student population here is a vulnerable one that often needs a shoulder to cry on, parental advice and motherly encouragement. There’s more than the typical amount of tears, tragedy, and trauma on this campus in a military community.

Maybe this is the mothering I was meant to do? Maybe if I had children of my own, I wouldn’t have as much energy to give to these students who do really need me, although I know plenty of teaching mothers who also boundlessly love their students.

I have had a fulfilling ten years giving myself to my students, and they have given back to me, too. Maybe I can be okay, knowing that I have loved these students, some who did not have loving biological parents to sustain them.

This does not change the revelation that I do have some grieving to get through, now that the door to motherhood is closed.

Even though I am still mostly content with an official end to my fertility, I have some truly unexpected, startling, sadness. I felt confident that I had already worked through my feelings about not being a mother prior to the final knell menopause brought to my fertility.

In reading about menopause, especially Magnolia Miller’s wonderful The Perimenopause Blog, I’ve found that grieving associated with this time of life is not unusual, whether one is a mother or not. Magnolia says we must acknowledge we are “mourning a loss" and "coming to terms with a new life on the other side of that loss.”

But the feeling of permanent loss, of no chance of a do-over, of not ever having the photogenic kind of family life that dominates social media, tv, and magazines does sting. Facebook, in particular, is soul-sucking for the childless woman. Some non-moms have deleted their Facebook accounts after it became too painful to look at other people's babies and children.

Even when we are savvy enough to realize that Facebook is mostly how people want to present their lives under best case scenario conditions, we still tend to buy into the seeming perfection. How can my childless life measure up?  Because that photo-shopped gourmet meal at the rustic table with the clean, smiling children, Dad carving the turkey, that's what family life is really like, right? At least some of the time.

I do grieve what I have missed and will never have, and I need others to understand that they can make me feel like an alien
Unfortunately, my grieving won’t be rushed, no matter how much I want to shake it off and move on to this new life ahead of me.


  1. Don't think for a moment that just because you haven't given birth to your own children that you do not have a powerful influence on all those around you! I am so thankful for the great women who have influenced my children for the positive!!

  2. There really is a mourning process that comes with menopause. I have three grown children, all married and making the most beautiful and brilliant babies of their own. I have no desire to have any more children, yet the transition that I've been making has brought both wondrous possibility and a fair amount of pain. An odd sense of loss, maybe for nothing more than a closed door that I didn't want to open again anyway.

    On another note, I wrote a short story a few years ago about a woman who was childless by choice. I entered it in competition and it won--it is one of a handful of mine that will appear in an upcoming anthology. I let a few friends read it--two of whom have chosen not to have children. I was anxious as I passed it on to them and wondered how they would receive it. I was especially touched when they both related to and understood my character. Reading your blog today, I see a little of her, too.

  3. Judy-- thanks so much for the kind words. I'm new to this whole regrets business, so it kind of took me by surprise to get hit with this "it's too late" feeling.
    I had so many childless teachers who helped make me who I am, so maybe I have helped a soul or two.
    I kid students and tell them I'm coming to spend a week with each of them when I'm old. You should see the panic on their faces, lol.

  4. Word Nerd, Please let me know when the anthology comes out-- or the link to the post if you blogged about it. It is such touchy territory, this whole fertility business. I had a doctor tell me once a few years ago that I was wasting a perfectly good uterus. How that was any of his business, I'm not sure. I have to get through this mourning, if only so he doesn't have the last word!

  5. As always, you have written a thoughtful post, Melanie. I grieved for several years when RR had a vasectomy when our second child was two years old. I wanted to keep that door open. He wanted to slam it shut. Sadness blended with resignation but I couldn't see another way. Menopause came relatively early for me - 46 or so - but the grief was no longer about children. 50 made me somber as I saw my life in the rear view mirror. And I STILL can't figure out -- as the talking fish and the dog in sunglasses -- how to make it all work....

  6. I hate that women feel a need to defend themselves about any and all decisions they make in the motherly aspect. If you have none you defend, if you have one you defend, if you have four... you get my point. It's all stupid. We are who we are and who we're supposed to be. I applaud those who follow the path ment for them and don't do things simply because others think they should! And as far as the grief, allow it, allow it till you don't need it anymore, we're all gere for you! <3

  7. There is so much angst about being child-free, I just don't understand why women need to judge other women that don't want to have children. It boggles my mind. Just stop it, those of you that choose to breed (and I'm one of you) and leave the decision making to the individual. :-)

    Now that I've put them in their place (pfft)...I don't think we ever see regret coming. I never expected that I'd experience moments of regret over HAVING children. For me that regret stems from all the scary things that wait around the corner for my children as they navigate their way to adulthood. I fear them being taken away and yes,I have pondered the thought that if I never had them, then I wouldn't be feeling so afraid. Of course, there are the times (most of the time) when I'm glad that I do have them. For me, at least, it feels like a double edge sword.

    Sorry I've been so absent and such a stranger! I'm sure you've missed my oh so insightful comments. (snort)

  8. I should also add that I'm not entirely looking forward to my children having children. I know it's terrible, but...well...I'm not the 'baby' kind of mom. I like them older, more self sufficient. And, frankly, I just don't want to babysit. I know...I suck!

  9. Melissa-- You are one of the most unflinchingly honest women I know. Motherhood is no bed of roses. You are too funny about the grandkids-- I'll check back with you on that one in a few years. You so do not SUCK.

    Emily-- that is so true that women have to defend whatever we do and it stinks. Thanks for reading and for your supportive comment. I'm touched.

    Graciewilde--it IS something about that life in the rear-view mirror. I was the latest of bloomers, going back to college in my 30s & 40s, thinking I still had all the time in the world to do anything and everything. Can you believe at almost 55 it is finally dawning on me that this is my one shot at life? If I'm going to do it, whatever "it" is, I'd better get it done.
    I am so glad to know all of you ladies! xoxo

  10. i know the feeling. If I am going to get anything done, I'd better get going. I got all the conventional stuff done but what about the real stuff?

  11. "This may seem bizarre and unnatural, but I always kind of smugly congratulated myself for realizing this lack of motherly feelings and then not fighting against these feelings and having kids anyway."

    This does not seem bizarre to me. I applaud this because I truly feel some women push themselves into motherhood even though they know better.

    Not that you need anyone to tell you this, but do not discount the mother figure you are within the environment you described. That is the calling you have, and that is why your instinct has taken you. And rightly so!

    Just found your blog via Twitter. I look forward to reading more.

  12. Amanda,
    How kind of you to stop by and comment!
    Just writing about this surprising grief helped, as well as the affirming remarks. It may be that I take motherhood TOO seriously and over-thought the whole issue, but I do believe that it's okay to respect our inner voice if it says "be a mom" or "momhood is not for you."
    I'm not always this serious. My alter-ego is extremely silly, so I'm sure we'll get along just fine! See you on Twitter-- I'll check to see if you have a blog!

  13. Many of my friends and I are child-free by choice. And I have not one regret. I do, every once in awhile, think what would be different about me now if I'd chosen differently.

  14. Thanks, Jane. Writing this post and reading these comments has helped me so much. Childless women are about 20% of the population, so we have a lot of company.

  15. Hi Melanie! This is a very powerful post, and one I am glad someone like you has voiced. Really!

    Though I've had my children, three of them, and all are grown, living lives of their own, I am mourning in facing menopause. Not because I wanted anymore kids, but just because I know I now can't. Does that make sense? I think it does!

    My youngest, my only son, tells me he really does not want to have children, of his own or adopted. And I tell him that that is his decision solely to make, and one that he should stick by, and not let anyone (like his grandmother) influence him otherwise.

    I agree with you, my friend, not all of us are for having children. Besides, from everything I have read about you, you have already done a great parenting job as a teacher. :)

    Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts and feelings.

    Love and hugs,

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  17. I love your honesty and I know how you feel. You sound
    like a very caring person. Please do not take this wrong but I think you are trying to justify your choice to not have children in order to "fit in" a society where most women
    do have children. It's difficult not to feel that way when TV
    shows are always talking about some celebrity's baby bump
    etc... I just turned 52 and still have a period but skip one occasionally so I know I'm in the process of menapause and I too have been second guessing my decision not to have children. I think most of it is the loss of the luxury to make the decision as it is no longer an option. Iii

  18. Hi Hunter, I suppose I am trying to say "Don't think I'm a weirdo because I don't have kids; look at the other ways I mother." I appreciate your perspective. Writing this post has made me more comfortable with the issue, thanks to the thoughtful comments. Hope you will stop by again!

  19. Hi Virginia-- thanks as always for your support. I think I'm a bit spoiled in some ways and thought that there would never come a time when the ability to have a child would end. A little silly, but that's denial. :-)
    Love you, my dear friend!

  20. LOL! OH, Amiga, I think I live in "denial" every day! You hang in there, PLEASE!

    Much love and hugs back at you!

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