An excerpt of Maria Coffey's memoir, "INSTEAD: Navigating the Adventures of a Childfree Life"
"Counterfactual curiosity" is an amazing concept -- reading this piece is a good way to start the day!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.