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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mammogram . . .

En route to the waiting room, where I was to disrobe and re-robe, remove my underarm deodorant and wait to be pressed, squeezed and radiated, the technician leaned against the door and glanced at my papers, twice. She backed the door open, pointed me inside and wryly asked:

“So, you didn’t have kids?”

“Nope,” I replied, before the shock and indignation of being asked such a question set in. Then my mind created a few better responses:

1. “You gotta problem with that?”

2. “Oh, did I accidentally forget to take my pariah mask off from Halloween?”

3. “Whoops, I forgot, I totally have kids! But accidentally checked ‘no’ on all those related questions. ”

Way to hit a nerve, lady.

On my way to get my underutilized boobies smooshed, no less.

woman busy looking on her file folders
The nurse’s inquiry hit a theoretical nerve as well as a private one. Who knows why she asked that question, not to mention the somewhat snooty tone, but as I sat in a frumpy robe waiting, I thought about difference. My choice not to have children is different from the norm. The human tendency, I’m sure you’ve noticed, is to be threatened by difference, to cast it out, and to gravitate towards sameness. Perhaps this had some tribal value years ago, when it alerted humans to potential invasion, but it has no place in today’s world in which you cannot lead or love effectively without honoring difference.

Effective leadership, with clients, colleagues, followers or employees, requires the understanding that others think, process and behave differently than you do. Cultivating an open mind towards difference enables you to accurately assess the talents and unique needs of others. When you acknowledge another’s difference, it makes them feel seen and valued. You become trustworthy. Opportunities to learn and create abound. If you don’t know how to honor difference, you might get a reputation for being a bigot, dimwit, tyrant or a bully; one who might be feared but not truly respected.

At home, in love, it is much the same. We all know the sad story of the parent who cannot express love for their different child. When you celebrate the differences in your loved ones, your relationships can flourish. You are freed from the judgment and fear that binds when your need for them to be the same as you runs the show.

In addition, the difference between two lovers provides a sometimes painful but valuable space, and that space, because it reminds us that we are separate, enables each to move towards the other. If you and your lover cloak that space with sameness, how, over time, will you feel attracted to each other? Sameness may feel comforting to some because it makes them feel less alone, but it is not at all sexy.

Differences provide essential opportunities to create something new together. Wasn’t that the original idea behind procreation? And so we are brought full circle, and thus ends my prattling on about difference and begins my summation of my choice for childlessness.

In 2004, a disappointing break-up led me to a brilliant astrologer, one who told me that if I didn’t have kids by 2008, it wasn’t likely to happen. I didn’t believe in those kinds of deadlines, but I took on the hunt for a good partner, something I wanted more than children. I spent my birthday of 2008 in bed for two days while my younger sister birthed her second beautiful child. Finding the right partner took longer than I thought.

And, well, I sort of missed the boat. Things are different. My priorities, hormones and my energy have changed. I don’t want kids anymore. I feel clear and relieved. And despite copious amounts of grieving, still a bit sad. That’s where the nurse’s arrow pierced through.

In that waiting room I became once again aware of a mere fraction of what I will miss. Some things easily come to mind, like holding and gazing at a being from my own body, which will never know what it’s like to carry another or expel that precious soul into the world. And of course there is cherishing that little body and soul and watching it develop and grow in its own difference from me, while at the same time seeing a smile exactly like mine or my partner’s or my father’s beam back at me. I will certainly miss the rich experience of having grandchildren; and of having to show up again and again, to do The Right Thing and feel great, or do The Wrong Thing and rack myself with guilt. First steps, tooth fairies, late nights, adolescence all come to mind, as does watching a pitifully adorable Christmas pageant, or watching tenderly and with deep feeling as my child drifts dreamily off into sleep. And on and on and on.

In tandem with the grief is the sheer gratitude that I can visit with my amazing nieces and nephews and then give them back to their amazing parents to do the real blissful and grinding tasks of raising them.

When the nurse came back to get me, I walked in peace into the dull beige room with those daunting, icy machines.

No, I don’t have kids.

There is so much that I do have. I have time. I have space. I have my work. I have my integrity.

And . . . my (cancer free!) boobs.

A funny thing happened on the way to the mammogram. . . .

I fell in love with my childless life.

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34 Responses to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mammogram . . .”

  1. Dawn says:

    Blair this is so beautifully written. You do have so much to cherish and celebrate in your life.

    Even though I have one child, I’m often made to feel by society (and other moms)that it’s not enough or there’s something wrong with my choice. Thank you for reminding me that being different is more than OK. It’s what makes this world exciting.

  2. Blair Glaser says:

    Dawn, Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your experience of the whole Mommy pressure thing. I am touched. Your adorable little one is very lucky to have you all to himself!

  3. scott says:

    I laughed in the first 5 seconds, had a reflective “Mmmmm” for about 2 minutes….was touched by your transparency and honesty throughout….laughed again….smiled at the gratitude i feel to be your friend and then got distracted as i started reeling off in my head all the people i am going to send this to. Thank you for this Blair.

  4. Liz Randolph says:

    Hi Blair,

    Thanks for writing this. Difference. Yes. Amazing how people who make choices “different” from the “norm” seem somehow suspicious to others, even in this day and age.

    I, too, have gotten the stinkface from people when I reveal that I have not had children, and that it had not necessarily been a goal of mine to have children. (I wasn’t against it, but for me, the right partner was a prerequisite.) One man actually told me I was selfish for not wanting to give birth, when I revealed that since I’d never felt The Biological Imperative, I’d rather adopt.

    But I was reminded of the “difference” thing most recently, though, upon taking a long awaited, much needed and too short vacation to an inn in the Berkshires. I took this vacation alone. I wanted a ME vacation. To do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I wanted peace. Quiet.

    But everywhere I went I felt as though people didn’t’s know how to “interpret” me, where to “place” me. I wasn’t traveling with a lover on a romantic get-away. I wasn’t on a girls-only weekend with friends. I wasn’t taking my kids on holiday. It was just me. By myself.

    So I had the innkeepers ask me TWICE whether I wanted ONE key or two (they couldn’t believe I was traveling alone) and every time I approached the front desk, I wasn’t greeted in a very friendly manner. It was almost as through they thought I must be weird or eccentric and they were waiting for me to do something untoward. (Maybe the fact that I was black and a woman traveling alone had something to do with it…who knows?)

    Both nights for dinner I sat at a different restaurant’s bar. On the first night, a bartender, whose establishment I’d visited this summer, was friendly but stand-offish– not as gregarious as when I went with my BFF earlier in the year and he spent the whole night talking to us. I was the only person at the bar. But a single woman alone? What does she WANT from me?

    The next night, in a different restaurant, I sat next to a nice lesbian couple with whom I chatted–they even let me taste their lemon cake–until one began to feel a bit insecure. She clammed up, began to grab her partner close to her, and give me the stink eye, until I went back to staring at my plate of cod. Suspicious single woman?

    I managed to have a good time anyway, but these encounters stuck with me.

    Even at home, as I negotiate the music world and work with accompanists, I see this suspicion. If I am working for a time with a female accompanist, we tend to get to know each other pretty well, but If I’m working with a man, it’s just the facts, ma’am. All business and no social interaction that does not involve a group–even when I have no interest in the fellow.

    Sigh.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Dear Liz,
      Thank you so much for your heartfelt reply. I traveled alone a lot and have felt so similar! It can be really frustrating. Finding people who we are close to that honor our differences is SO important. It was great to hear from you. Much love.

  5. Shannon says:

    As a 42 year old married but childless woman I wholeheartedly relate to your feelings. I am childless by conscious choice. I love, value and appreciate children. And I have always felt different and judged for my choice. Yet as a therapist I give love and acceptance to many. I find it interesting that many therapists choose not to have children. Perhaps more common than with other professions? Thanks for your candid post.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Hi Shannon,
      Perhaps! Someone once remarked that I “did the mothering thing” through my work in my relationships with clients! Although I didn’t have to change diapers, it’s food for thought.

  6. Cary says:

    Blair,
    Beautiful post, thoughtful as always. I appreciate your vulnerability, and I love the reminder of the joy of what results when we are open to the possibilities, lived out by others, of new ways of seeing, being, living.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ll share this piece further.

  7. Pat says:

    Happy New Year, Blair, and congratulations on your first blog post!

    I have a few responses — will start with, isn’t it amazing the rude and intrusive questions people will ask / the seemingly casual statements made that ring with judgement. Usually, I have the momentary brain freeze, automatic response, and only later, the perfect comeback. Oh well; life.

    Thank you for sharing your journey from judgement to acceptance.
    For me, I think it takes a little longer than changing into one of those robes!

    I too enjoy the little ones of others. Occasionally my choice wobbles.
    What I notice is that standing apart in difference takes courage.
    You are courageous!
    Both in your choice and in sharing your very personal story.

    What a great way to start the new year. Thinking deeply.
    Thank you!

  8. Being another childless woman, I’ve had so many experiences that I was reminded of reading this. I was always confident of my choices, yet am finding now that conventional child path is no longer a choice, a bit of doubt has crept in. It’s not a loud shouting, more of a whisper in the night.

    That’s where I could relate to your description of the nurses arrow piercing the sadness. I’m discovering a tender place that gets triggered by others expectations and assumptions.

    I’m grateful for the women in my life who have made similar choices or their timing didn’t align. It’s helpful to be able to talk about these places with those who can relate and not respond with judgment and assumptions.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks, Christine. I find the doubt comes and goes. It’s gone for good; then it creeps up out of nowhere in unexpected places, like parks and mammograms.

  9. Vivi Steinfeld says:

    Hi Blair,
    As a childless woman who made that choice many years ago at the age of 17 (and was told repeatedly by others I shared it with that I would change my mind, which I did once for 10 minutes at the age of 40 while holding someone else’s infant), I was struck by the possibility that perhaps the nurse was curious or even envious and didn’t know how to broach the subject with you. I think if this had happened to me, I might have asked her why this was notable to her, and this may be easier for me because I do not have any feelings of regret or loss about my decision. Perhaps if all of us who have made a ‘different’ decision open a dialogue with those who attempt to make us uncomfortable for our choices, it would happen less and we would be contributing to a more compassionate, more understanding world. Thank-you for sharing this and on your new blog.

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Blair,

      As a single, 41 year old childless woman, I was compelled by your piece because I too share many of the feelings you expressed. But I also wanted to reply here to Vivi Steinfeld’s post because I see where she is coming from as well. I work in a nursing home full time and I have to say that when I learn that a particular resident never married or had children, I have been “guilty” of asking the very same question.. Perhaps the situation is different because I follow up right away with, “Neither did I!” I ask the question because I want to connect with them, because I feel that if these women got through it, then so can I. I want to learn from them, to gain acceptance, to make myself feel less of an outcast… who knows what I’m looking for? Perhaps this woman never had children as well and regrets it and was just asking for the same reasons. I can’t say because I wasn’t there to judge the tone of her voice or see her expression, but I’m just putting that out there as a possiblity. I ask the question to initiate a conversation and perhaps she was looking for the same..

      • Blair Glaser says:

        Jessica,
        I like this conversation. Difference surely begets curiosity and that does not need to be hidden. I think it is –as you point to — a matter of time and place, intention and tone. I bet the elders you worked with got a lot out of your curiousity and questions.
        Thank you for taking the time to read, write and ignite!

  10. Alli Polin says:

    Blair,

    I love this post! Thank you for your humor, honestly, vulnerability and heart. The most important thing any of us can do is to be at peace with our lives, who we are and the journey along the way. You seriously inspire me!!!

  11. Melissa Pierson says:

    How richly thought, and expressed, and given. I appreciate this, Blair.

    It helped me to reacquaint myself with thoughts about all the roads not taken; every life has many, some big, some relatively unimportant. And some painful.

    I was given the chance to have a child, and took it–at the very last moment. Luck and chance. Now, when I reflect on what seems the Road Not Taken that looms largest for me–not choosing better in the partner department–people are quick to remind me that I may have lost something, but I got my irreplaceable child. There’s always something.

    My version of the intrusively questioning nurse is the friends who, I imagine, look at me as the loser whose husband left her. I would be wise, and happier, to think of what I have, and not what I don’t. Was it a choice, or was it just chance? Only I can reframe that one.

    Looking forward to your next gift to us all.

  12. Blair Glaser says:

    Thanks for reading and for your heartfelt share, Melissa. The Road Not Taken, the imagined and sometimes unimagined judgements of others are for me reminders that we don’t have the control or omniscience we thought we might at a younger point. Another thing to grieve!
    I can’t imagine anyone viewing you as a loser. Looking forward to your next gift, the next book!

  13. Katherine Wessling says:

    Blair, that was a lovely piece and I can so relate. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. Tamarisk says:

    I’ve enjoyed not only your post, Blair, but the comments of others. I too am childless by choice (but still young enough to have a road to Damascus conversion…or so everyone keeps telling me).

    I feel like there is already plenty of nurturing and mothering in my life in the work I do with clients, I’ve never felt an aching child-shaped void in my life because of it (I feel).

    And, like absolutely everyone on the planet, I’ve been through my own struggles and dark nights of the soul. I’ve always thought it weird that if you have the knowledge of how hard personhood can be sometimes, why would you inflict it on someone you purport to love? Strange question, I know.

    Something else that occurs to me is conversations I’ve had with a friend who’s 3 months off giving birth. She’s terrified and has her eyes wide open about how much her life will change. When I asked her about why she wants children, her answer is because she doesn’t want to feel like her life is empty when she’s 60. That breaks my heart. Children are NO insurance policy. There’s no insurance policy against feeling like your life is empty and meaningless except day-in, day-out consciously choosing to live your life deliberately and on purpose.

  15. Very honest and heartfelt post Blair. I agree (with the comment) that therapists and others who see themselves as helping others as part of their calling share their love with many, and in that way, live on in others who they have helped. You have a strong, nurturing, earth-mother energy that perhaps was meant to touch many more than having children of your own would realistically allow.

    This is actually part of the superhero myth. In the post I linked to my name above, I wrote about why Disney characters and superheroes are usually orphans. This relates to what you wrote about being different–it takes strength to be different. This is why, in the Bible, G-d tells Abraham to leave his hometown, friends, and family: we must walk away from the expectations of family, friends, and even society and find our own path to truly grow.

    There is another truth in myths as well–heroes rarely get married or have children. Part of the superhero/Jedi code is to not have attachments that can make you vulnerable. It can compromise your ability to do the right thing, ex., the villain is going to blow up an entire city, but also your family, but you can only save one.

    That being said, my wife and I are expecting twins and hope to raise them with full consciousness of keeping our paths in tact and not doing things just because everyone else does them but because we believe it’s the right thing to do based on our experiences. Society often teaches us “either/or,” I’m hoping we can break away from that and have both a loving family and a conscious one that recognizes the higher calling to help mend the world. Perhaps “parents as superheroes” will ignite a new mythic truth to allow those who heal the world the experience of also having children of their own if they so chose.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Congratulations, Mark!
      I am so touched by your heartfelt reply. Your comment was spammed (prolly cause of the link) and I just found it today.
      I feel supported by your linking my story to the archetypal myths and after all the grief I do feel it was meant to be.
      I am very excited for you and am looking forward to reading about you and your wife navigate the Superparent! journey.

  16. Ramu says:

    “Differences provide essential opportunities to create something new together.”

    Your sentiment is profoundly true but often difficult to put into practice in many situations due to inherent defensive routines. Celebrating diversity has to go “beyond ethnic food day.” Yet many employers have a predisposition for uniformity which can be somewhat frustrating and traumatizing for job applicants in this economy.

    Job Applicants’ Cultural Fit Can Trump Qualifications
    http://bit.ly/cultural_fit

  17. Ben says:

    I was so touched by this piece! As a gay man, I can related to being asked insensitive questions, even in terms of having children. I am sad not to be having children also, but I want to tell you YES there is so much we do have. Time and resources to be generative in so many fun and equally important ways….

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Ben, thank you so much for taking the time to read and your generous comments. Here’s to celebrating difference. People would really be so boring without it.

  18. Wow, I liked your terrific post!

  19. I do not have children either. I always assumed I would have children and remember feeling sorry for my childless aunt and uncle when I was a child. For me it was mostly timing since I didn’t get married until I was nearly 36 and wanted to make sure our marriage was solid before trying to have a baby. I feel a fair amount of ease around it all now since I believe my soul has other aspirations.

    While we know childbirth reduces breast cancer risk, which is why they ask about it on those intake forms, presumably, that’s no excuse for insensitivity from the nurse! The bias and thoughtlessness is definitely out there. Last year on Mother’s Day when I was depositing checks a bank manager casually asked me if I was a mother. What?!? I’m sure she was just making small talk but it was awkward and bothersome.

    Thanks for your open and honest post!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for your comments, Christy. So glad you are at peace and yes, it can be awkward. Now when people ask me if I am a mom, I often reply with, “my dog thinks so!”

      • Great answer, Blair! I’m the closest thing our cats have to a mother at this point too. :)

        I’ve had a weird epiphany since I posted this morning after I realized I tend to frame it as “not having children” rather than “not a mother.” There’s a big difference between not having children (a non-event) and not being a mother (a role, identity, or way of being). The non-event definitely is irrelevant in terms of one’s ability to be present and nurture just as you and I do with both our clients and our pets! Plus we all know of mothers who don’t seem remotely maternal which contrasts to the deep connection that was offered by the childless “Mother” Theresa. Thanks for the food for thought!

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