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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

"Counterfactual curiosity" is an amazing concept -- reading this piece is a good way to start the day!

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I really love that term.

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So nice to have a term for what I’ve always attributed middle age to be: the tipping point when you realize you’ve lived enough of your life that ‘the option’ to live another is no longer on the table, such as having kids or a second career. This realization was depressing. All the choices we make add up to all the choices we didn’t make. My own world did feel smaller when I understood the virtue of this truth. It seems ‘the human condition’ ages right along with us, maturing as we do, haha! Great read and I love Maria’s outlook and approach to life. Got to keep swinging for those fences, no matter what age you are!

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Thanks Jenn! 'Swinging those fences' - I love that!

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I'm glad my writing got your day off to a good start!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Powerful. It is not a frequently spoken truth but those who have children have the same counterfactual curiosity. I wish or I wonder is, i believe, both a gift snd a curse. What could have been. As a society, we allow you to say it aloud but as a parent and especially in some faith cultures, talking about what you missed out on by having children is taboo. But we all think it. Thank you for this.

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Thank you for your honesty, Tricia.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Maria, thank you. You hit all of my buttons with your incredible writing. I too am child free, and have felt the same longings as you.

I am definitely going to buy your book, and take it with me on my trip to Morocco in May, at 71.

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Oh, please send me a picture of Instead in Morocco!!! In the book I write about Ia life defining experience there when I was 21 - almost drowning and being resuscitated on the beach, and returning there at 68. I love the people and culture of Morocco. Will this be your first visit there?

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It will be my first visit to Morocco. I can’t believe I’m finally fulfilling my dream. I will definitely take the photo. Your book sounds amazing and perfect for this trip. Thanks so much for writing it.

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I'm a bit envious of you going for the first time - it's going to be a series of wonders! I so look forward to that photo. My email is maria@hiddenplaces.net .

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Hi CeCe, just had to say hi and Happy Birthday! Jill HNA ‘70

The book sounds fascinating!

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Hi Jill! Hope you’re doing well and having some adventures in your life too. You take care and hopefully I’ll see you at a future reunion. And happy birthday to you too.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

I straddle two worlds -- the world of mothers of living children, and those who have experienced pregnancy loss and infertility. The second world includes those who have chosen to live child-free after having those experiences, and also those who now have less children than they imagined. I think that in addition to not wanting to continue experiencing immense physical discomfort, longing and loss, there is also a sense that there are just so many more beautiful experiences out there to be had that won’t cost a woman her life or her sanity like the pursuit of a viable pregnancy does for some of us. Having memoirs like this out in the world therefore does not just make the world a kinder better place for people who choose to live child-free, but also for those for whom it was not a first choice and is instead the only way forward. It reminds us that we can all live happy lives without having to do and be everything, without having all that we could ever want or imagine. We can just follow the joy and the call of it where it leads, and it is enough. We are enough.

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Thank you so much for this powerful message. We are enough, indeed.

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Thank you so much for sharing your story of enough-ness. So many -- SO many -- will benefit, I’m sure of it.

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Ryan, I read this comment and immediately scrolled back up to check the author’s name, thinking “I must connect with her!” Then I saw that it was you, one of my very first Substack connections.

You have articulated so beautifully why some of us end up childless after infertility. I appreciated this essay so much, even though Maria’s childlessness was by choice. It provides such a helpful perspective as I navigate decisions about how to move forward from here, and what kind of future those decisions may bring.

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Thank you, Liz!

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Nov 3, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

I thought of you and your adventures when I read this interview. ❤️ I also thought of Elizabeth McCracken writing, in her own loss memoir, “I travel not to get away from my troubles but to see how they look in front of famous buildings or on deserted beaches. I take them for walks. Sometimes I get them drunk. Back at home we generally understand each other better.”

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What a fabulous quote!

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Ryan, I am just now unearthing this fabulous comment with this fabulous quote. I love it. Thank you for sharing! 😍

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<3

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Nov 7, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Oh my goodness!! I experienced infertility and within the evangelical mindset that means you are cursed or in sin or whatever. I woke up one day and decided enough. Infertility was not going to my defining narrative and whatever happened was not “second best”.

25 years later i was one of the 1% that had an aortic aneurysm found before i dropped dead. Turns out a pregnancy would have killed me.

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Oh my goodness, what an amazing story! Thank you for sharing that. It reminds me of the Parable of the Chinese Farmer.

https://www.cleveland.com/living/2009/02/parable_of_a_chinese_farmer_ho.html

(And please feel free to tell me to F off if that doesn’t resonate!)

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I had heard that somewhere in a movie- think it was Charlie Wilsons War with Tom Hanks. It is a true reflection that we only know what we know today and time will prove some things false and others true.

I was super blessed to have models of all sorts of different life choices as a child and my immediate family was pretty nonjudgmental except when it came to beer choices!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Every life well lived left other lives behind. It is a part of the gently cruel reality of human freedom. Oddly, whatever our choices, if freely made, we are lucky to experience it, I think. Thanks setting yours down. Great piece.

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Lucky is the word! Thank you.

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Well said.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Thanks, Maria, for your journey. I am your age, 71, the mother of 3 sons, and I am thick in the weeds of the writing career that was put on the shelf when they were growing up. Last week I visited my middle son and his child, my grandson, to help with childcare while my DIL was out of town; it was painfully clear that the choice to be a mother could not be done in tandem with major writing. I taught writing, dabbled in the short form, but not with the grand ambition I now have. Two-plus decades later, I am pushing forward. We make tradeoffs. I'm fine with those I made, and I enjoyed the counterfactual curiosity of reading your reflections.

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I love that you have the opportunity to move forward with "grand ambition" now.

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Hi Judith, Like Sari, I am really happy that you are now pushing forward with your big writing ambitions. I look forward to reading your work.

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Hi, Maria. Here is a link to my Substack. A new post just went up.

https://judithrodgers.substack.com/

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

I'm 30 and currently navigating with my partner whether to have children. Nice to consider that there's no wrong choice, just two alternative lives from which we can choose, both offering their share of triumphs and challenges, joys and sorrows.

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Exactly!

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Yes.

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Suze, I appreciated this as well--that there is perhaps no wrong choice, just different choices with different outcomes. I am currently navigating the decision of whether to start a family through adoption or egg donation after years of infertility and five miscarriages. Childlessness has loomed in the back of my mind as an alternative, and I’m grateful for Maria’s perspective.

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Liz, Like Sari, I am so sorry to hear of your tough journey.

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Thank you, Maria. 🙏

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Nov 3, 2023Liked by Sari Botton

I’m so sorry you’ve experienced so much loss. It’s not fair that biology has forced your hand toward making one decision or another. I’m glad it gives you some comfort knowing there’s a fulfilling life on the other side of whatever you choose.

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Thank you, Suze, and best of luck with your decisions moving forward. May you find joy in whichever path you choose!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Same experience on the DC Metro (subway) last year. I gratefully took the seat, having just had knee surgery. I thought at the time, although I was wearing pants, my scars must somehow show -- nope, just my entire OLD demeanor, LOL.

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It's a shock, isn't it? But still, it speaks of human kindness. I broke my foot in the summer, and I'm still on crutches. I've been so touched by the gentleness and concern of strangers, younng and old.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Thanks so much, Maria, for tackling this subject, which is crucial for many women! There is so little cultural dialogue around the idea of being purposefully childfree, and to read such a vivid and honest piece about your experiences feels like a balm to my childfree soul. If enough women would speak up about this, it could inspire brand-new ways of envisioning old age for those of us who don't have children in the picture.

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Thanks Alicia. When I first began writing the memoir, my theme was dealing with the approach of old age. I was looking back at challenging experiences earlier in my life to see what I could learn from them to help me move into this new and uncharted territory. I soon realized that I was constantly writing about my childfree choice, and that this was the big topic I needed to explore. I still don't have all the answers about coping with old age - I wonder if there can be definitive answers, for anyone - but like you I hope more of us speak up about our experiences, and share ideas of ways forward. And of course, Oldster is wonderful outlet for this!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Thank you for this wonderful piece. I’ll be 70 in December and felt 10 years younger, if not ageless (running daily, hiking, mountain climbing) until an 80 pound off leash dog body slammed me to concrete, breaking my hip and wrist. Suddenly I felt 80, some 10 years older than my actual age. But I got through it within months and am back to my daily runs, yoga, driving, typing, et al. I offer this not only as a warning to all of us “sen-agers” regarding off leash dogs, but also as the possibility that age may be a mindset that, like having children, we don’t necessarily have to opt for. I have no biological children, by the way, participating instead in the raising of two fine young stepsons, an effort that came with its own share of heartbreak and challenges, but who are now enthusiastically raising their own children. Having come to know myself as well as I do with the aid of therapy and my own writing, I have no doubts, or regrets, about not birthing anyone into this world. The nurturing I currently find most satisfying is the teaching of creative writing and helping others to birth their own writing selves. Fun fact: I even led a first session of a writing group while in a wheelchair in the hospital on Zoom. It was a great way not to feel enfeebled.

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How awful, Nancy. Your story of recovery is inspiring. In late July, on a summer-long sailing trip, I badly broke my foot - a Lisfranc fracture with ligament damage - and had to have surgery. I was warned that this is a serious injury, and that it could be up 9 -12 months before I was walking normally again. I spent the following six weeks in a cast, non weight bearing, on the boat - which was a good place to be, but it was torture staring out at the sea and not being able to swim, paddle board etc in our anchorages. It suddenly brought old age, and the fears around it, crashing down on me. I'm still on crutches, but starting to walk again, slowly. I had to cancel book events when Instead came out last month, but I'm about to go to the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to give a presentation (and receive the Adventure Travel Award). From there we'll head to Catalonia and I hope I can soon be swimming in the Med. Meanwhile - I so hear you about off leash dogs. Right now, on crutches, they are a terror for me.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton

“Suddenly brought old age and the fears around it crashing down on me,” is exactly what I felt stuck in the hospital for two weeks of intensive physical therapy, and then home for months of more. But that cloud has lifted, helped by all the things I still want to do before I do leave the building, as they say, and energized by the realization that there are limits to this life. I blush that you found my story of recovery inspiring. Your life is inspiring and the awards for Instead well-deserved. Have a ball at the ceremony, crutch free or not!

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<3

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

As a non-parent of a similar age, Maria's essay really resonated with me. For years, there were intrusive questions from my husband's and my relatives, and not-always subtle disapproval displayed by even casual acquaintances. Strangers now sometimes hesitate when discussing their grandchildren in front of me. I can see the wheels turning in their heads, wondering why, as a married woman, I'm the odd one out. Sometimes I do speculate how things might have gone in different circumstances, or with a different partner. "Counterfactual curiosity" nails it perfectly.

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The grandchild factor has been a whole other experience for me, too. I'm really happy for my friends, but sometimes it feels like another club I'm not part of.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

Uncertainty was our stimulus! Counterfactual curiosity! The Hidden Places sounds like a most nurturing and maternal enterprise--caring for travelers on adventures into the new and little known. Thank you for your story.

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I've never actually thought of that! But yes, you are right. Thank you for this insight!

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Oct 31, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

As I am also married without children, or as colleague said—“We are known as MWOKs.” It is always good to hear stories of sister and brother travelers who have either chosen, or because of life circumstance, did not sprout any offspring, but with all instincts and passions at play, are contributing and nurturing close to home and far afield.

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Oct 31, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

I am 82. I have birthed no children, nor had close kin relationships with any children. I didn't have world-traveling or unlikely business adventures. I've traveled a little and had a mid-level academic career with only one bump in it. But there has been adventure. I'm coming up on the 50th anniversary of an lesbian relationship that was nonmonogamous for many years, and we haven't cohabited for about 40 of those years. We haven't married and never wanted to. I think I would have fared very badly, had I married (a man or a woman) and had children (the opportunity did present itself, early on)...and the children might not have fared so well, either. My long and sustaining relationship wouldn't have lasted, either, if we had married. There are many ways to put work, love, and partnership together. Many kinds of adventure.

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Dec 5, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

I’m 52. Reading this reply made me feel so seen. You sound very much like me, except I’m currently living with my partner of 6 years. I do find that to often be weird and hard because I’m definitely a loner. No kids, thankfully. As you said, I think neither kids nor myself would have fared well if I’d had them. I’m glad I saw your reply here.

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"Many kinds of adventure." That is so true! Congratulations on your long and happy relationship.

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

My wistful thoughts are less about choices that I have made in the past and more about having limited time (at 73) to make more choices. The world is so full of curiosities to be explored.

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I hear you!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton

A lovely piece of writing. I will buy the book. Never wanted children, never regretted not having them. The way I would explain it when questioned was, “I want my own big adventures, not to be the one who gets others ready for theirs.” I had the exact same experience on the Tube in London when I was 66!

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Thank you! How funny about the tube. I wonder if it was the same young man who gave up his seat!

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Oct 30, 2023Liked by Sari Botton, Maria Coffey

An enjoyable read by Maria Coffey. I remain childless and happy for those solitary moments; friends and family are always there--but I am only in my mid-70s; perhaps that will change. My partner is much younger than I, so perhaps my connections to a younger crowd also contribute to my happiness and often underscore my decision to remain childless--when I hear of their challenges as parents. My advice has always been: cultivate younger friends.

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Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Robert.

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