Nobody's Mother: Life Without Kids
edited by Lynne Van Luven

TouchWood Editions, 2006. ISBN 978-1-894898-40-9.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 08/11/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

We celebrate the births of babies and ask our friends how their children are. If we have friends without children, we don't usually broach the subject of their childlessness. It seems too personal a question to ask someone. Did they ever want to have children or did they make a conscious decision not to? Nobody's Mother offers a variety of frank answers to such questions. You just may receive the inspiration to raise the sensitive subject.

According to the contributors to this collection of personal essays, many women choose not to bear children because they feel they can accomplish more in the world without them. In fact, statistics reveal that one in 10 women is choosing not to bear children. Some of the contributors became mothers by becoming stepmothers. Broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, who wrote the foreword, wanted a child when she married but her husband already had three. She was frustrated and hurt not to be able to plan for a child of their own.

The essays in the collection are by Canadian and American women who range in age from their early 30s to mid-70s. Many are writers. Others are teachers, researchers, Aboriginal-rights activists and world travelers. The women have used a variety of styles to tell their stories which is a testament to their own unique lives. As the editor points out about the women, "not one of them is a nobody simply because she is 'nobody's mother.'"

Although some of the women realize the timing and circumstances just weren't right for a child, there is the sense of something missing, no matter how many others' children they may be close to. In some cases, their relationship or memories of their own upbringing affected their choices. Mary Jane Copps, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, changed her mind and changed it again so that "many of my choices have contributed to my being childless. I live with this as regret and blessing both, a point of chaos within my ordered life." She reveals that she has always been afraid of becoming her mother. "No positive reinforcement" is one of the reasons Laurel Bernard of Victoria, B.C. gives for not having children. She writes a funny essay about being eccentric, along with her husband John: they don't have children because they are children, she says.

Zoologist and science writer Nancy Baron had surgery to unblock a Fallopian tube but never did get pregnant. Her husband felt he was "running out of time" to become a father and separated from her. Baron found a new love, her soulmate, who also didn't have children and they both share that regret. She's the writer who comes closest to describing the anquish of infertility.

Poet Lorna Crozier found when she looked in Roget's Thesaurus that the synonyms for "childless" are "about as negative as you can get." For instance, "acarpous," from the Greek, means "bearing no fruit, sterile." Crozier considered having a baby while in her mid-30s, with a man who had five already. She wonders if Patrick's refusal to have more children was one of the unconscious reasons she chose him. It is such raw honesty that makes this collection so special.

Sometimes Lorna Crozier imagines the child who might have been. In a poem she wrote in her late 30s (she's now in her late 50s), she imagines a ghostly daughter dancing in a white dress saying "good night, little mother." Her essay is a beautifully poignant one about gratitude threaded through with longing. That poignancy makes it my favourite essay in the collection—but I have to confess, I'm already a fan of Lorna Crozier's poetry.

Katherine Gordon has no interest in becoming a mother. There's no sentimentality whatever in her essay, which makes it totally refreshing. This is one writer who appears to have no regrets and doesn't "want to be held hostage to parenthood."

Sadhna Datta is of East Indian origin and as a single woman without children is something of an oddity in her community. She believes that mothering should be performed by everyone, regardless of gender. As a lesbian, Sarah Leavitt could have chosen a donor to become pregnant. She believes, though, that love and energy should be given to children who already exist on the planet.

Maggie de Vries had an abortion as a young woman but assumed that she would give birth to children later on. Her husband didn't want children, so as in many cases, she accommodated herself to her situation. The women learn to count the blessings they have—the freedom that comes without children, as de Vries describes it.

Although there are stepmothers in the book, there are no adoptive mothers. Adopting. I suppose, is a conscious decision to become a mother. That's the category I fall into—a very fortunate mother of two adopted children.

Lynne Van Luven, the editor of Nobody's Mother, is also the editor of Going Some Place: Creative Non-Fiction Across Canada, the first Canadian anthology of creative non-fiction every published. She has a Ph.D. in Canadian literature and is Director of the Professional Writing Minor in Journalism and Publishing at the University of Victoria's Department of Writing in British Columbia.

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