Why Being Childless Makes Me Fruitful

Pope Francis is wrong. His statement that Jesus “doesn’t like” married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness,” assumes a lot of things. It assumes that such married couples don’t value relationships. It assumes that they have pets they spoil instead of children. It assumes that a decision to not have children is brought on by a desire for material things, and ignores any other considerations (genetics, health, overpopulation concerns) that may have gone into the decision. The Pope also stated “in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.” Yikes, the Pope has doomed my marriage? My life?

Having or not having children is a personal decision. I am not bashing anyone who has made the decision to have children and am not saying that such a decision is selfish or that parents are selfish. Because that is the first issue: why is a personal decision about whether to have children even framed as one of selfishness? I hate the fact that married friends of mine who have made the decision to remain childless will often preface conversations about it with “Maybe I am just selfish, but…” Why? Why is a decision about bringing another life into this world even discussed in terms of “selfish?” I could make the counter argument that having biological children is selfish when there are adoptable children in need of homes, but I don’t believe it. Having children is a personal choice, with huge ramifications. Other life decisions, such as not marrying or choosing a particular career, customarily are not subject to such pejorative terms, so let’s stop using “selfish” when discussing this decision.

But given that married, childless couples are often accused of being selfish, let me give you 5 concrete reasons why I’m not and why my life is fruitful, not barren as Pope Francis believes.

1. I have time for my friends and family. Always. Despite the fact that until last year I was a practicing attorney with a busy career, I have always made time for my friends and family and they know they can count on me. I take their phone calls, make plans with them, listen (and talk, who am I fooling?) and enjoy their company. I don’t have the distraction of children vying for my attention. I can stay up late to talk through a crisis because I don’t have to get up 3 times in the middle of the night for a feeding or nightmares. I value my relationships and work hard at them.

2. I have time for my friends and siblings’ kids. I have babysat, gone to kids’ soccer games (which I hate), baseball games, basketball games, school plays, spelling bees and school concerts. I am thrilled to cheer for my friends’ kids, niece and nephews and to see them perform. I do this because I want to, not because I have to. I do this because I love your kids.

3. No competition. My friends can brag all they want and I won’t one-up them because I don’t have kids. Oh, I might mention my niece and nephews because I am proud of them too, but there is no competition as to whose kids are more gifted, talented, faster potty trained, whatever. I am happy to hear about how great your kids are without secretly comparing them to mine.

4. I don’t give up on my friends. Raising kids is tough work. I know that the early years are the hardest and that parents are exhausted and frustrated. I know that when I invite my parent friends to do something, they will likely decline, but I keep inviting anyway. I know that I have been replaced by the neighbors because it is easier to walk out the back door and have a beer on the patio rather than call me and invite me over. I know that when my friends’ kids go to school, the parents of their friends will replace me, again. I get this and, while my feelings are hurt, I will take whatever time I can get with you.

5. I am married because I want to be. I am not staying in a bad marriage for the sake of my kids. I am not having kids in an attempt to save a bad marriage. I am married because I love Matt more than anyone and love being with him.

My life is not barren. I have great friends and am a great friend. I am close to my family. I have a strong marriage. I don’t think I am doomed to be a lonely old lady. What would it say about our society if the only bonds that sustain people in old age are those with their own children? Where would that leave single people, for surely the Pope is not advocating children out of wedlock?! Where would that leave couples whose child died or who were unable to conceive, because surely the punishment of  a marriage ending in “a bitterness of loneliness” would be cruel? Where would that leave priests and nuns? Let’s see married childlessness for what it is: one (major) life decision, not a indication of personality or values or worth or happiness.


A Trip to the Doctor

It’s 7:00 am and I am hitting redial on my phone as though the local radio station is giving away $1,000,000. I wish – instead I am trying to get a follow-up appointment with my doctor. Added to the list of things that are just different in Cajamarca, is healthcare. Not necessarily worse in all respects, just different.

My situation started last week when I decided it was time to see a GI doctor for my on-going stomach issues. I got a name from a friend and toyed with having Matt’s school nurse make the appointment for me, but I decided to be a grownup and do it myself despite my anxiety over talking in Spanish on the phone. I called last Monday around 9 am and was told that the doctor’s appointments were full for the day. Fine, could I please make an appointment for another day that week? After asking for the response to be repeated several times, I thought I was being told that appointments could only be made for the day one is calling. When I asked when I should call, I was told “earlier.” As this seemed bizarre and inefficient to me, I assumed I was misunderstanding and asked Matt to have his nurse make the appointment for me. He came home and said she would be calling the next day. Apparently, my Spanish was dead on and you have to call on the day you want the appointment. The nurse did so and my appointment was for 8 pm on Tuesday.

We had been to the doctor once before (the nurse made the appointments and those were in advance, go figure), so we knew that we needed to get to the clinic early to pay and check in. In this respect, the Peruvian system is better, at least with our school-provided insurance. You pay upfront for everything, so there are no surprise medical bills 3 months later. My co-pay for the specialist visit was $12.50, and this amount includes the follow up visits as well. I pointed out to the clerk that I was a woman – my form listed me as a man – and she told me it was the insurance company that incorrectly coded me and pointed to their office and told me to talk to them but not to worry about it for the appointment. The insurance clerk was busy, so we stepped aside and waited with everyone else.

We soon noticed that a nurse was coming out of a door and calling a few patients at a time. They would step inside for a few minutes and then go down the hall and wait by various other doors or go to another floor. We deduced that she was likely taking the basic information: temperature, blood pressure etc. Miraculously my name was called after only a few minutes. But when I stepped up, the nurse looked startled, asked me if I was a woman and, when I confirmed that was the indeed case, told me to wait a little bit. A little bit stretched into 20  minutes and my anxiety rose. One of our friends waited for her doctor appointment for an hour the prior week only to be told that the doctor had gone home because she was his only appointment. I didn’t want to have that happen to me although the place was teeming with patients.

By now we had figured out that I missed my first chance because the nurse was calling men back into the room. So the next time she came out and called for another woman, who arrived long after I did, I stepped up and said that I had been waiting. The nurse was very apologetic and I went in with the other lady. We were seated next to each other and all of our vitals were taken (is it bad that I was happy that I was taller and weighed less?). After living and breathing HIPAA, this was a very odd experience! The nurse then walked me to the doctor’s office, but it was empty and she placed my file in the middle of a stack of files and told me to wait in the hallway. At this point, we were standing in a narrow hallway with a bunch of other people. Thankfully, many of them had infants and we surmised that they were all waiting for the pediatrician, not my doctor. Once the doctor arrived, things moved pretty quickly. The first guy went in for a little while, came out, and called the name of the next in line – again, no HIPAA concerns here. It also became apparent that all appointments were made for 8:00 pm and you wait your turn (designated when you made your appointment) beginning at 8:00.

TMI -Welcome to Life in Peru

TMI Cheat Sheet -Welcome to Life in Peru

My turn came and I met with Dr. Albán who shook my hand, chatted with me about my symptoms and prodded my abdomen a bit. He ordered some labs, gave me a prescription, shook my hand and sent me on my way. Later I realized that there were no gloves, no sink in the exam room, no Purell, no paper on the table… no sanitary measures whatsoever! And he only poked my tummy – where did he poke the guy prior to me? I shudder to think…

We had to go back to the check-in line to pay for both the medication ($1.80) and lab work ($4.50) and then take the receipts and paperwork to the pharmacy and lab, respectively, to get what I needed. Again, no health care cost surprise down the road.

Pros: Kind workers, upfront costs, no fake HIPAA privacy (come on, if you are all sitting in the waiting room, you are seeing each other, right?).

Cons: Inefficiency in appointment making and waiting times (although overall the waiting was not really worse than in US and maybe it is better to wait in a hallway with your clothes on than in the inevitably freezing waiting room in a paper gown).

Disgusting factor: Lack of sanitation. I noticed on the follow up visit that the bathrooms have no toilet seats, were filthy, have no hot water and no towel/dryer for one’s hands. UGH. It is no wonder that I have stomach issues here!


And Hell Froze Over: The Day I Joined Facebook

I jump onto most popular bandwagons late, and Facebook is no exception. But unlike the others, to which I wasn’t opposed, just disinterested until I was interested, I was flat-out opposed to Facebook. “I keep in touch with my ‘real’ friends. I don’t want to read what someone ate for breakfast, be annoyed by political rants, hear every day that someone loves her kids or husband…” my list was endless when someone would encourage me to join Facebook. “No one wants to read what ate for breakfast, listen to my political rants, or hear love Matt” was my next argument when the pressure would continue. When we moved to Peru almost a year ago, the pressure increased. But I was steadfast and I counteracted the arguments with this blog: everyone could keep up with my new life by reading my blog. And I could keep up with everyone else’s life via emails.

But that isn’t how it worked out. I learned that many people, even close friends and family (you know who you are), don’t answer my emails. Oh, I know that I have a lot of time on my hands these days compared to just about everyone else, but when those same folks are posting all over Facebook, but not responding to me, clearly time isn’t the issue. “Send a Facebook message,” Matt would tell me, generously offering his account for my amusement. And sometimes I would. And get an immediate response. This pattern deepened my Facebook boycott: if one has time to acknowledge me via one medium, why not another? Especially when both of the media are essentially the same.

Then there was the hypocrite factor. On more than one occasion, I asked Matt to friend one of my friends so that I could see her family photos and keep up with her life. As time passed and I missed family and friends more, I spent more time (usually late at night after Matt was in bed) cruising his Facebook account, seeing what I was missing and keeping up on friends and families’ lives. Sometimes I even commented or “liked” something.

So today I took the impulsive plunge and joined Facebook. And immediately panicked. For the uninitiated, or those who joined so long ago that you forgot, the minute you sign up for your account, Facebook has you send out friend requests before it even walks you through the profile page. I knew enough to not expose my entire contact list to friend requests, but within literally seconds of sending out the first, targeted batch of requests I received several acceptances and messages. Panicked, I called my brother, “I just joined Facebook, what do I do?” Tommy laughed, “I know. I just sent you a message.” “That’s my problem; I don’t know how to get my messages or set up my profile and I have about 20 “friends” already.” I realized I was ducking out of view of my laptop’s camera as if these “friends” could all see me. “Fourteen, not 20.” Oh. How did he know that? He walked me through the process and gave me some tips that I will likely understand at some point.

While I joined Facebook, that doesn’t mean I have fully embraced it. I still fear getting friend requests from people I would rather forget or ignore, getting sucked into endless hours of reading drivel, and not liking people I used to like once I find out their political or religious opinions. But I hope the tradeoff of seeing all those great pictures and actually getting responses from some of my friends makes it all worth it.