Not all men and women who aren’t parents feel “complete without kids.” Some have struggled unsuccessfully with infertility, and others have found themselves in situations that closed the doors to mother and fatherhood. Such was the case for author Sue Fagalde Lick. In her newly published book, Childless By Marriage, she shares her very personal journey. From an early age, Sue knew that she wanted to have children, and yet she found herself married (twice) to men who didn’t share this dream. Her second husband was truly a soul mate to her, but he already had three children from a prior marriage and didn’t have the desire to start all over. Sue’s story is so classic for many of us, who, as women, find ourselves compromising what we desire in order to please the man in our life.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Sue about her book, a wonderful source for so many who are also “childless by marriage.” Here’s what she had to say:
Sue, when did you first decide to write the book?
This has been a long project. My first wave of interviews took place in 1999, the year after my previous book, Stories Grandma Never Told, was published. I suspect I was already thinking about it before that. Originally, it was going to be a much more journalistic book, an objective look at the various aspects of being childless. Over the years, it got more personal. When I started working with an editor from New York, she insisted that the best parts were my story and that the interviews and research got in the way of the real story. So I emphasized the memoir more, but I think I still got a lot of information in there. I have been trying to sell this book to a publisher for more than a decade. The response has always been the same: good writing, fascinating topic, but they don't think there's a market for it. I plan to prove them wrong.
I completely agree with you Sue that the audience for her book and others related to life without children is huge. It’s a fact that one in five women in the United States is now reaching the end of their childbearing years without becoming a mom. There’s a lot of unresolved emotion around this situation, no matter how each of us arrived there.
How long did it take you to complete Childless By Marriage?
I seem to have been researching and revising it since 1999. Of course a lot of things happened in between, including three other books, an MFA degree, and several family crises. Having read the book, you know about some of them. Last year, when I thought the book was finished, I realized that I had to tell the story of what happened to my husband. At the time, I was in a motel room rereading the book for what I thought was the last time. I opened my laptop and started writing. I wrote for hours, unaware of anything going on around me. When I finished, I knew the story was finally complete.
Reading your book, I felt like I was there with you, feeling your angst in combination with your persistent optimism. Many parts seemed to be from your journal, and there was such a tone of sadness and loss. Was writing and completing the book healing to you in any way?
My journals sometimes tend toward whining and self-pity, but I hope I don't just make readers feel bad. I hope I can convey some hope, too. There is life without children, maybe not the life we thought we wanted, but it's not so bad and it's full of possibilities.
Doing the book has been healing in some ways. Of all the stories I've written in my life, I really needed to tell this one, and I needed to get it published and start talking about this stuff. I'm anxious to discuss the many aspects of childlessness anywhere people will listen. I don't think most people understand. Do you?
No, I don’t think most people understand how tough it is to not be a member of the motherhood camp. I totally related to the parts of your book where you talked about step parenting. It’s so true that as a step mother we are expected to do all the “tasks” of parenting but we seldom get the goodies, including being the one they seek out for advice and the one they give the Mother’s Day cards to. This year I was traveling by plane all day on Mother’s Day and it was one of the best I’ve had in years, simply because I didn’t have to face it. I concur with you about the healing nature of writing about being childfree/childless. Completing my book helped me to put the issue mostly to rest, and it’s also resulted in me being connected to a huge support group of other women and men who also aren’t parents. I don’t feel like I’m the only one anymore!
What message would you send to readers, especially young men and women?
Only in recent history have we had a real choice about whether or not to have children. Abortion and birth control were still illegal in most places when I was a teenager, and divorce was not nearly as common. Nor were people waiting until their late 30s and 40s to have children. My message to young people wondering whether or not to have children is to really think about it. Don't just let the time slide by and don't let somebody else make the decision for you. Talk about it. Make a conscious decision about having children. If there's a physical problem, talk about how far you want to go with medical intervention and whether you're open to adoption. If there is no physical problem, but one partner does not want to have children and the other does, work it out before you get married. Know what you're giving up if you decide not to have children. Know that your path will be different, not tragic, but different.
Yes, yes, yes—I also find myself encouraging young men and women to take some serious time to consider this decision. I view it as the most important one of our lives and it’s not one to be left up to happenstance. I’m pleased to see that this contemplation is happening more and more these days. I’m also hoping that the huge number of accidental pregnancies (fifty percent in the US now) will decline as access to affordable, convenient, and safe birth control increases.
Thank you Sue for taking time to talk to me about your book. I’m certain that it will be a help to many others who are also “childless by marriage.”
Sue’s book, Childless By Marriage, is available through Amazon.com in Kindle and Paperback editions.
Photo: Mother and Baby: Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net