Much of the time (believe it or not) I don't really think about or dwell upon just how different my childless lifestyle is from that of the "norm" of parent-driven society. At least I don't think about it until I find myself at an event surrounded entirely by parents and/or young couples on the edge of marriage who just "know" they'll be having two or three kids, eventually, and in fact have their exact "starting date" for conception planned out. (Oh, to only be that certain that infertility won't affect you, like it does 1 in 7 couples today! Good luck...) At such an event I suddenly find myself feeling like an alien observing some strange culture from afar, unable to understand, grasp, and certainly not gain entry into the world of parents.
Parents Are Aliens (To Me)
When you're a non-mom, sometimes it can be tricky to be in a social situation with a room full of parents.
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I suppose it makes sense to feel this way. I have - for most of my life, consciously or unconsciously - surrounded myself with people and friends who are childless. Some are married or partnered and either by choice or by circumstance never had a child. Others are single, where some have consciously chosen to live that way and others never quite met the "right person" (and they aren't hung up on having to, either).
When my friends and I get together we talk about and do all kinds of things: take a day trip to a nearby city for a concert or art exhibit; go out to a movie or a new restaurant we want to try; take a wine trail tour or simply hang out together and enjoy evenings of enriching conversation and company. Maybe even rent a beach house down the shore for a week for a girl's getaway. And when we get together in larger groups for a party we tend to talk about these shared adventures of ours in the past while planning new ones for the future.
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This is my "normal". This is why it feels so alien for me to instead be at a gathering or party where I find myself in a complete and total "parent zone". Whether or not there are actually any children present, it seems those kids become the sole focus of all conversations for the rest of the evening. The reminiscing of how fast the kids grow up, how "cute" some new thing baby Joey is doing (of course, complete now with immediate photo or video sharing on the smart phone!) Comparing local day care facilities, school programs, teachers. The debate over whether one should move from the city to the country for a better childhood for the kids. Planning for Disney next year and how hard it is to take a night out without finding a sitter. Who's a "daddy's girl", who's a tom boy, how happy they were when baby number three was finally the boy they wanted after two girls (or vice versa).
Such conversation will go and on for hours while I sit back and smile politely with nothing to add or say, struggling to find any opening of conversation to engage in or point of reference I can connect to beyond my own childhood now forty-years past. Parenthood is all these people talk about - at least while the women are present. If the moms (and planning-to-be moms) abscond to the kitchen, the men might finally switch gears and talk about work, sports, other hobbies.
I tend to stick around with the guys at this point - it's safer territory for this non-mom.
At first, in such situations, I do find myself growing bitter and resentful (of my infertility and inability to ever be able to share in or understand these things. Of adoption not being an option for us, of all the reasons why it's not going to happen, thanks for not asking). Yet after a while, the most recent time this happened to me, I felt a shift in my mood as the evening went on. A shift from depressed and resentful to calm and maybe even a little bit...glad.
As the "alien observer", I became more detached and started to question: Is that really the life I would even want? As opposed to the life I have now? The one where I can spend a day writing, creating art, or pack up on a whim to visit a friend who's in visiting Philly or New York City from the West Coast? One where my sweetie and I can plan two weeks in Europe every year, and countless other quick getaways, without worrying about anything except who's going to feed our cats (let alone having the money to do so?) Is that life-of-a-parent I've been so jealous of for the past five or so years of my fertility struggles really all that it's cracked up to be, anyway?
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Perhaps, at forty+ years of age now and having lived this kind of childless life for so long, it's simply that my life has traveled so far down this path it's near impossible now to imagine it changing - or being able to change. If I'd gotten married and pregnant right after college, or even before then, perhaps I would have been as blissfully happy about it as these parents who can't imagine or would find equally "alien" a life like mine. Or maybe they have their moments of envying my life just as I have moments of envying theirs, I don't know.
I suppose part of the acceptance I've been working toward in recent months is realizing that I don't have to feel resentful or sad about the things, like parenthood, which will very likely never be a part of my life. Time moves too quickly - especially when you've hit forty! - to waste it instead of living it fully, be it with children or without.