Chat Transcript: Joan Brady on Childfree Living
INCIID Guest Speaker
May 6, 1999
“I Don’t Need A Baby To Be Who I Am”
“Heaven In High Gear”
and “God On A Harley”
A registered nurse and former lifeguard, Joan Brady lives in California.
INCIID : Hello, Everyone, and thanks for joining us tonight. Our guest is Joan Brady, author of “I Don’t Need A Baby To Be Who I Am,” “Heaven In High Gear,” and “God On A Harley.” Joan is with us tonight to chat about child-free living and just about everything that is related! We invite you to join us in welcoming Joan!
laurajude: Welcome Joan!
BJM: Hi Everyone. Hi Joan.
I-Host Judy: Hi Joan, glad to have you here.
Joan Brady: It is a pleasure to be here! Thanks for inviting me!
laurajude: Hi Joan, My name is Laura and I read your book, God on a Harley. It was so great.
Joan Brady: Hi Laura, it is nice to meet you this way and I’m flattered that you like God On Harley.
INCIID Debbie: Joan, this is very exciting having you here tonight to talk to us about your book and about the journey that brought you to writing it.
INCIID Debbie: Judy, you’re up, do you have a question for Joan?
I-Host Judy: Joan, I’s wonderful to read a book about childfree living. There is so little support for us.
Joan Brady: That is exactly why I wrote the book. I was looking for support and couldn’t find any.
I-Host Judy: Have you heard from many other childfree women?
Joan Brady: I have been approached and heard comments from women. I’ve had long discussions in bookstores while doing book signings, Judy.
Joan Brady: Apparently this is a very emotional subject. Everytime I do a book signing, there is at least one person with tears in their eyes when we talk about this subject.
I-Host_Joy: I just wanted to let you know that the first two chapters in the book hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s where I am right now. I am pretty angry. Any advice?
Joan Brady: Joy, anger is a natural part of the process. It is one of those things you have to go through to come out of the other side… And the other side is beautiful. Let it rip! Also, Joy, this book is about a process, and a process can take a long time. Anger was a big part of that process for me too.
I-Host_Joy: I am not sure that I can do that right now.
Joan Brady: I know what you are going through. Writing this book was a way of expressing my anger and my feeling of being cheated. You don’t have to write a book to be published. Write one for yourself, Joy. It helps to get it out.
I-Host_Joy: It is really tough to see through the anger. I waited like you to have a child and when I was ready, my body wasn’t.
Joan Brady: I understand, Joy, and I totally support you. I want you to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it will get better. You will find yourself in a beautiful place eventually when everyone else is going through the empty nest syndrome.
I-Host_Joy: Thanks, Joan.
laurajude: Does your book also have any infor for woman who have lost babies? Joanne told me that you were on tonight, she should be joining us tonight.
Joan Brady: Laurajude, not specifically for women who have lost babies, but I wrote the book because I had a sense of loss. Going inside yourself and facing that loss honestly… facing any loss honestly, is the first step toward healing. What I tried to do was to fill in the holes in my life. Different people have different holes. I filled in those holes by expanding my horizons, by looking beyond what people expected of me and what I expected of myself.
Joan Brady: Again, it is a process and sometimes a process can be painfully slow. One thing that helped me a lot was stepping back and looking at the big picture. The big picture was seeing all children as my own. I didn’t have to have custodial care of them, but I could sure influence lives.
Joan Brady: When I was a nurse, taking care of terminally ill teenagers, I knew I was giving those kids something that I couldn’t have given if I were a mother because it would have been too painful. But I could allow myself to get close to their pain and their hurting because I had no agenda, no guilt… none of the usual parental guilt.
Joan Brady: Even now, every time I pass a child on the street, if all I do is pass a smile on to him, I know I’m giving him a positive moment in his day. I know I can make him feel special. I don’t have to get hung up on all the mundane chores that are wrapped up in childcare. I can give happiness and support. Another part of the big picture is that someone has to be out making this world a better place for children.
Joan Brady: Biological parents can make the home a good place for children, but I have an obligation to make the world a better place for them and I find that very satisfying.
lawhiz: I was actually “lucky” enough to decide I didn’t want kids before I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, so I just see it as a confirmation of what I already suspected in the first place.
Joan Brady: lawhiz, you have been given a special job. A bigger job. You can look outward to where children are going someday and make it better for them.
Joan Brady: Being childless is only a negative thing because people tell us it is. But if the world were honest, they’d see there is room for all of us and jobs for all of us to do. Important jobs.
lawhiz: Well, to be honest, I don’t like children all that much… I mean, I like my godson and all, but that’s it. I don’t feel a moral imperative to make the world a better place especially for children.
Joan Brady: That is your choice and I’m sure you are accomplishing something that is important to you and that is fine.
Joan Brady: I find that when I am giving to others, especially children, my happiness increases. As Hillary Clinton would say, “It takes a Village!”
Joan Brady: And it does.
Wendy T: Did you ever get to speak to Aunt Agnes about being childfree? What would/did you say to her.
Joan Brady: Wendy, that was a taboo subject in our house. We were specifically told not to mention that subject. But If she were alive today, I would be fascinated to know how she saw her life without children. If she thought her life was fulfilling. I think she did. I can also tell you that Aunt Agnes made my childhood a very happy place because she had the time and energy to spoil us on occasion.
Wendy T: Thanks! I need to talk to Aunt Dot before I no longer have her.
Joan Brady: For those of you who haven’t read the book, Aunt Agnes was my aunt who never married and never had children and who in those days was referred to as a “spinster.” She was someone we were supposed to feel sorry for and for some reason was perceived as “less than normal.” Yet, she made huge contributions to my well-being, growing up.
lawhiz: My Aunt Jessie never married or had children either. My mom says that’s why she kept all her marbles until she died at almost 90…
Joan Brady: (laugh) I would agree with your mom, and I would like to propose a toast to Aunt Jessie.
Joan Brady: I think they should make Mother’s Day cards that are generic that you can send to anyone because so many women deserve to be remembered on Mother’s Day: Women like Aunt Jessie and Aunt Agnes and Aunt Dot.
kathrynne: Am coping with the fact that I was depressed and having heart palpitations, and am now even MORE depressed because my GP has suggested Prozac.
Joan Brady: Kathrynne, I’ve been there and done that too. Life gets better, I promise. We MAKE life better and the older we get, the better we get at learning how. I love getting older. I may not look as good as I did, but I feel a million times better.
Joan Brady: Kathrynne, I reached a point in my early 40s where I truly didn’t care if I lived or died. My main thought was, “Who would care if I died anyway?” I hated my job. My love life was non-existent. I hated where I lived.
Joan Brady: One day I decided that being THAT unhappy was a crime. So I quit my job, packed my car, headed west and decided that I was only going to do the things that made me happy.
Joan Brady: I started doing volunteer work when I got to CA, which made me happier than I could ever imagine. I did a lot of writing to express myself. I wasn’t getting paid for anything, but I was happy. And a week before I was about to be evicted I got my first novel published. Shortly after that, I went through an early menopause…
Didi: How long ago was that, Joan?
Joan Brady: Two years ago was menopause, two years before that I came west.
Joan Brady: It looked like things were just getting better because I’d gotten my novel published. At age 46 I was told I was through with menopause and I didn’t even know I went through it. I was told I would never have a baby.
Joan Brady: It was very difficult… I always thought that there would be time… even at that age, a chance to have a baby if I met the right man. So I had to do some soul searching and some acceptance.
Joan Brady: Once I accepted that a door had closed, I began to see so many other ways to make myself fulfilled. It was almost a relief because it was something I couldn’t yearn for anymore. So, all the energy I had spent yearning and longing for that perfect situation for a husband and baby, I could now put into other things like taking classes, improving my career and getting athletic.
Joan Brady: I actually found that something had been freed and I had more energy. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone right now. I honestly love my life now and I couldn’t say that at any other time in my life.
PENGUIN: Hey Joan- It’s your cuz from West Caldwell – JoAnn.
Joan Brady: Hey Cuz! Glad you could make it!
PENGUIN: Joan – any new books or movie deals?
Joan Brady: JoAnn, no new ones. I have a movie deal with God on a Harley, as you know. 🙂
bjm: I am starting another IVF and facing the possibility of living childfree. How do you let go of expectations that are deeply rooted in your self-identity?
Joan Brady: bjm, I know how you feel. My expectations of having a family were also very deeply rooted in my identity. I had to find a new identity. I had to see myself as more than, or different from what I expected.
bjm: That is exactly where I am right now…still in shock.
Joan Brady: I grew up expecting to be married and have children and it was a shock when that didn’t happen. But I can tell you this- I have now become the person I always thought I wanted to marry. I know how to take care of myself, protect myself and support myself… All the things I thought a partner should do for me.
Joan Brady: And as for having children, I took on an identity of Earth Mother. Rather than being the mother of one or two children, I see them ALL as my children and I contribute whatever I can, whether it is a smile or a word of encouragement or being involved in programs for neglected or abused children, which I do.
Joan Brady: I don’t feel like I missed anything with this attitude. But it took 45 years to get here.
It was a process and it took a long time.
INCIID Debbie: Read Joan’s book, and it won’t take you 45 years to get there!
Joan Brady: There will never be a shortage of children on the planet, only a shortage of people to love them.
Wendy T: Who are your Role Models? (BJM, read her book. It Helps!)
bjm: Thanks for the thoughts…and I will read your book.
Joan Brady: WendyT, Princess Diana. I adored her. She was someone who, even though she had her own children, saw all children as hers. She had a heart big enough to embrace all children in the world. And to me, that is what mothering is. Having a big heart and wanting to nurture.
Wendy T: How do you find ways to nurture?
Joan Brady: Wendy, there are so many opportunities to do that, especially through volunteer work. Check your local police dept, they always have programs for abused and neglected children. But also in your everyday life: the way you live your life, drive your car, setting examples for children, in everything you do.
Joan Brady: And of course, there are always the children of your friends and relatives with whom you can have a special bond because you have no agenda.
adrienneb: Everything I have done in the last 8 years- house, 4 door car etc.. has been preparing for children. Do I sell everything and start again? How do you get over it and get on with it?
Joan Brady: Adrienne, only you can make that decision to sell your car, etc. Just don’t sell your sense of self with it. Know you are special and know that you have a purpose. It may not be what you thought it was, but I’m sure you have one.
adrienneb: How do I approach my family and friends with our new choice. They are all pushing us towards adoption of donor insemination and it just isn’t something that my husband and I want.
Joan Brady: Adrienne, for me, everything boils down to self-esteem. Whatever the question, whatever the problem in life, if I increase my self-esteem everything is easier and the answers come.
Joan Brady: If you and your husband have made your choice, that is the most important thing. Why should it matter what everyone else says? If they love you they will want you to be happy.
adrienneb: I have tried to explain to them, we aren’t interested in it and a couple of my sisters have started major family issues over it. Should we separate from them for a while? They truly don’t understand and don’t want to.
Joan Brady: Where is it written that everybody has to give their parents grandchildren? I think that is a false expectation. That is where the problem is, not in the decision whether to have children.
adrienneb: What is the name of your book? Maybe I will buy everyone in my family a copy…
INCIID Debbie: Joan’s book is called: “I Don’t Need A Baby To Be Who I Am.”
Joan Brady: There is a part in my book- a story about three dolphins that were trapped in the river because their instincts kept telling them to swim south, when in fact, they needed to swim north to get out into the open sea. But their instincts were so strong that they kept swimming into a wall. That is the way dolphins are supposed to swim- south in the winter.
Joan Brady: I felt like my instincts were telling me to be a mother and I should do what everyone else was doing. But it wasn’t until I took a different path that I swam out into my own open sea. So you don’t always have to do what everyone else THINKS you should, Adrienne.
adrienneb: How did you find that path?
Joan Brady: When my career took off and my sense of self took off and my happiness expanded. I found it with a lot of courage, by giving up everything that made me unhappy in my life – which was just about everything in my life: my job, my dysfunctional relationships, my home. And I trusted myself that I would find a better way to live. I promised myself that I would only work at something I enjoyed. I would never have a job that I hated again.
Joan Brady: You asked something about your family not understanding above… I think you are right, they don’t want to understand and I would have to question the motive of anyone who wanted me to do something against my will.
Joan Brady: You were all put here to take care of yourself first. That is the most important thing, and if taking care of yourself means not having children, that is a very generous decision!
I-Host_Joy: I think that we were sold a bill of goods when we were kids, young ladies, if you will, and that identity was bogus. I wish that our identities could be closer to who we are as individuals. I think that would save some of us a lot of pain. At least it could have for me.
Joan Brady: I couldn’t agree more, Joy. Very well said. But we are the women, we are the generation who can help little girls who are growing up today.
I-Host_Joy: Thanks… How can we go about changing it for the little girls of today?
Joan Brady: We can be examples of women who have broken the mold.
I-Host_Joy: Yeah, that is the mold that was broken! 🙂
Joan Brady: I have a niece, who at nine years old, recently asked her mother if she had to get married when she grew up. And her mother said, “No, nobody has to get married.” And my niece said, “Oh good, then I can have a really cool life, like Aunt Joan.” So what I am saying is JUST BEING WHO WE ARE is enough. It sets an example. They will see us smiling and happy and fulfilled and they will want that too.
I-Host_Joy: That’s cool! My answer was, “Yes if you want to have babies.” That’s what my mom said to me.
I-Host Judy: Life is so good when you realize you are more than your inability to have children. It frees you up to enjoy life. I think it is also easier when you get to your forties and your friends’ children have gotten past the “cute stage.”
Joan Brady: Judy, you should have written the intro to my book. I think we do ourselves a disservice by obsessing about what we don’t have. There is an old saying: “What you focus on expands.”
Joan Brady: So if you focus on what you don’t have, you will get more of it. But if you turn your attention to the talents and skills you do have and the opportunities to use them will abound.
Wendy T: Wow I am writing that down.
I-Host Judy: I thought your comment in the book about “I could see my childfree status as an affliction or as a rare and unusual gift” was wonderful.
Joan Brady: Thank you, Judy. And it is true, it is a rare and unusual gift and I use it as such.
INCIID Debbie: Yes, Judy! That is quite a statement.
Joan Brady: You don’t have to have a baby to experience and share your own nurturing, caregiving self. I think the world needs all of the female, maternal, nurturing energy it can get. We give birth to so much more than babies.
Joan Brady: Why don’t we all consider sending a card of thanks to the strong women in our lives this Mother’s Day?
INCIID Debbie: That’s a wonderful idea.
Wendy T: Just Thanks, Joan!
I-Host Judy: Thank you for inspiring us this evening.
adrienneb: Are you coming back any time?
Joan Brady: Andrienne, YES, thanks. I will.
INCIID Debbie: Joan, will you join us again next month?
Joan Brady: Thank you for asking me. I would be delighted.
PENGUIN: Your words are sooooo true. Joan, can I be in your movies – smile smile.
Joan Brady: You have to get in line behind me. Joanne, you are certainly beautiful enough to be in the movie! J
I-Host_Joy: Thank you, Joan!
INCIID Debbie: Joan, thank you so much for your inspiration tonight! We’ll look forward to your visit next month.
Joan Brady: Thank you all for having me. See you next month.
I DON’T NEED A BABY is Joan’s true-life story and it is a personal journal, sometimes painfully detailed, of her voyage from the heartache of longing for a child, across the sea of traditional expectations of marriage and a big family, to a tranquil, unexplored land, lush with possibilities. After hitting bottom with her despair, Joan began the journey from which she emerged incredibly joyous and awed by a sense of peace she never would have predicted.