With shows like “19 Kids and Counting” and “Teen Mom” taking up our airwaves, hyper-focus on celebrity baby bumps, and the tiresome “mommy wars,” you might forget there are women who have eschewed baby making. Sure, some childfree women find support groups on Internet message boards and blogs, but for the most part you’re not going to find many books on the topic of women going through life sans kids. That’s why as a childfree woman I was delighted to find the book No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Emmy award winning writer, producer, actress, stand-up comic and director (and childfree woman) Henriette Mantel.
In No Kidding, the writers focus on why they don’t have kids, and their reasons are pretty diverse. Some women knew from a very early age that they didn’t want kids. Some women did want children and even went to great lengths to get pregnant but infertility issues got in the way. Ultimately, these women find themselves embracing their life without offspring. And there are woman whose lives focused were focused on other things-education, careers, travel, hobbies-and they just find themselves not mothers.
Some of the women whose essays are featured in No Kidding are names that you know. Comedian Margaret Cho writes about choosing not children in a Korean-American culture that puts children on a pedestal and jokes that if she ever gets a yearning to have a kid she’ll adopt one from China because as she jokes, “who’s going to know the difference?”
One a more serious note, former Saturday Night Live cast member Nora Dunn gets into the thorny debate on abortion and asks why so many pro-lifers don’t seem to care about the welfare of children once they are born.
Actress Jennifer Coolidge may have played one of the most famous cinematic moms ever, Stifler’s mom in “American Pie” (you know, the original MILF), provides a very witty foreword to No Kidding. Her reason for not having kids? She just can’t handle multi-tasking. She recalls a story about having her mom hold her gum while she went to the bathroom. Coolidge just couldn’t handle a piece of Bazooka and taking a piss. Hmm, is the kind of woman who could handle getting Bazooka gum out of a toddler’s hair while changing her baby’s pissed-stained diaper?
Then there are notable essays written by women who may not be as well-known but whose views, thoughts, experiences and insight makes for some very good essays. Valri Bromfield’s jokes that Motherhood Personality Disorder (MPD) should be recognized by the psychiatric community. According to Bromfield MPD has several notable features including intrusive preoccupation with offspring, episodes of major martyrdom, and intermittent cooking and cleaning. Hmm, I bet even moms reading this review will say to themselves, “MPD? I know so many moms afflicted with this.”
Wendy Liebman might not be considered truly childfree because she does have stepchildren. However, as she writes about her stepkids awesomeness, she also raves that she got to have these kids in her life without doing all the painstaking work of actually raising kids.
On a more poignant note Laurie Graff mentions she does feel a bit of melancholy about not having kids when faced with family photos posted on various Facebook pages. Patricia Scanlon really wanted to have kids but hit the brick wall of infertility. However, she soon embraced the idea of living a childfree life and is thriving (complete with a beloved dog named Dudley).
Plenty of the essayists in No Kidding are devoted aunties and enjoy being around children (granted, on a very limited basis). But there are also essayists who would prefer to shovel turds in Hell than have kids. They never played with dolls when they were little girls, and aren’t exactly fans of babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers. Then again, we all know of women who did have kids but don’t exactly seem like the biggest fans of babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers.
If I do have a problem with No Kidding, it is the writers are all in some capacity, working in show business. Many of them are stand-up comics, writers, actresses, directors, and playwrights. I’m all for creative types, but I would have also liked to read stories by women who are nurses, professors, bankers, administrative assistants, social workers or bartenders. Most of these writers appear to be baby boomers or older Generation X-ers. I would have liked to have read essays written by Millennials or on the other age spectrum women who have reached their “Golden Girl” years. Hey, one of the most famous childfree women out there is the 91-year-old Betty White.
Still, I found No Kidding to be an enjoyable and interesting read. I think most childfree women will find a lot of support and understanding within the pages of No Kidding, and I bet a lot of moms will also appreciate some of the essays. There are many ways to leave a legacy that have nothing to do with having children. No Kidding may not exactly leave a legacy, but it definitely shows us that women can live truly vital lives without ever being called, “mom.”