Childless and childfree women come in lots of shapes and sizes. We are all colors, all cultures, and all ages. As much as we have in common, we are also very different. Some people say it is strange to define ourselves by things that we are not, so let’s determine what we are instead.
Childfree blogger Laura LaVoie interviews women bloggers without children who answer the question, “If you’re not a mom, then what are you?” This is the fifth of a series. Laura says:
“Not everyone arrives as this place of NotMomhood in the same way. Some people make the decision not to have children, and others find themselves making a painful choice to remain child-free due to circumstances beyond their control. I had the pleasure of talking with Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of the award-winning memoir, Silent Sorority, about her experiences with infertility and the eventual choice that changed her life.
“We thank Pamela for her honest and heartfelt answers. It is important to know that all NotMoms have a voice and we should present a united front.”
Tell us about yourself and your blog and other projects.
After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Michigan, I spent nearly a decade working in the auto industry before relocating to live and work in Silicon Valley with my husband. Today, when I’m not working with startups and venture capital investors, I explore society’s slanted perceptions of non-moms versus the reality of our lives. Over the past several years, I’ve helped form an international community of women who are non-moms as a result of infertility complications.
Much of my infertility experience in my 30’s (later expressed in blogging) helped form the basis for a book called Silent Sorority. It’s the first infertility memoir not written by a mother. In fact, it’s been called the antidote to the “momoir” and received the Best Book Award in 2010 from RESOLVE, the national infertility organization.
In embracing my life as a family of two – and as an infertility survivor – I’ve been able to encourage online discussions about what it means to live a full life outside of being a parent.
I’ve since become a contributing writer to the Seleni House Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to funding research to better address women’s unique mental health care needs. I’ve also recently begun discussions with a documentary film producer who is putting together a creative brief about what women without children face in a Mom-centric world.
Why did you start blogging?
I first dealt with the confusion and weirdness of infertility in isolation. This was a time not so long ago (before the proliferation of Internet communities) when information on this topic was available only via the library or bookstore. No one discussed it. That made it doubly hard to reconcile. It was intense and, at times, absurd confronting infertility in an era of Mom’s Clubs and helicopter parents. I was made to feel like an outcast, bombarded with messages implying my life would be devalued, unfulfilled if I didn’t succeed with motherhood.
It was only after my husband and I decided we were done being human lab experiments that I began to realize that overcoming infertility is about much more than making a baby. It’s about coming to terms, when nature and science find their limits, with a meaningful life different than the one so often taken for granted.
That’s what led to my first blog, Coming2Terms. I discovered, as I grieved our losses, that there were no women blogging openly about the abandonment that accompanies failed fertility treatments. My blog allowed me to explore the stigma engendered by mainstream media focused only on success stories that ended with motherhood. I’m proud that Coming2Terms gave voice to a large but little known population of women, non-moms, left to make peace and build new lives after the unpredictable and complex effects of involuntarily childlessness. This path is not an easy one in a society obsessed with motherhood.
As a result of my blog and willingness to tackle this taboo topic I have had the good fortune to be profiled in The New York Times, Redbook, The Globe and Mail and Yahoo Shine. My writing has also been featured in a variety of outlets including The New York Times Motherlode Blog, the Seleni House Foundation, Open Salon, More.com and BlogHer, just to name a few.
Tell me about your life situation?
My life is joyful — full in every sense of the word. Each and every day my husband and I encourage one another to shape and define a life outside the beaten path. We challenge each other to uncover new possibilities, to seek new adventures and discoveries that will enrich our understanding of the world and our place in it.
We’ve developed rich friendships. We’ve traveled the world and met remarkable people engaged in activities and professions that foster greater community, understanding and empathy.
How do you feel you are treated as a woman without children?
There are lots of misperceptions about me and my life. I’ve bumped up often against suspicion, judgment and negative attitudes assigned to those of us who are child-free by choice or circumstance. Broadening the understanding of who we are as women without children is what led to my latest blog, A Fresh Start.
I was quite disappointed during the last election cycle when both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama chose to focus disproportionately in their keynote speeches on women as mothers. It felt so dismissive of a large portion of women who are not mothers. The tide may be turning though (finally!), as evidenced by a recent podcast. The host, a woman pregnant after fertility treatment, listened to my story and expressed admiration for my decision to set aside one dream for another. She described me and other women in my shoes as the most unselfish women she’d ever met. She called us “selfless” for not destroying our families and relationships solely in pursuit of motherhood, and “courageous” for our willingness to endure judgment that comes, unfairly, to women without children. You can imagine my surprise.
What defines you and your life?
There is no one thing – and that’s what I hope to make clear to those who want to put me in a box, assign a label or portray me as one-dimensional. My interests and friends are diverse and cut across generations. When I’m not working or writing, I enjoy travel that allows me to experience a new place not as a tourist, but as those who live there. I’m also a history buff. Fun for me includes discovering new indie films and documentaries or discussing societal shifts and current events with family and friends over a great bottle of wine.
What message do you want to send to advertisers and readers?
Those who focus only on parents, grandparents and ‘family’, narrowly defined as ‘with children’, are missing out – pure and simple. We NotMoms, and our partners, have time and disposable income to invest and spend in ways that extend beyond conventional thinking. Just look at the numbers you’ve shared on your website – we’re an overlooked but growing and vital population.