Bad Childhoods, Dysfunctional Families, and Mental Illness: Reflections on HBO’s ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest’ From a Childfree Perspective

  • SPOILERS: This post contains spoilers from the HBO documentary ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest.’

My husband and I cuddled up on the couch on Saturday evening to watch Mommy Dead and Dearest, the HBO documentary about the murder of Dee Dee Blancharde and the accused, her own daughter Gypsy Rose Blancharde. Not the most romantic date night for sure, but intersting nontheless. Gypsy endured one of the worst cases of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a mental illness and form of abuse in which a caregiver intentionally makes their dependent ill, ever to be recorded. After watching the documentary, I read this article detailing what Gypsy plans to do after being released from prision. In addition to considering culinary and cosmotology school, Gypsy had this to say as told by her step-mom Kristy:

She had told me that one day, she hopes when she gets out, that she wants to be able to grow a family. And she had mentioned that to one of her cellmates, and her cellmate said, “Well, aren’t you too scared to raise your child like your mom did?” And she said, “What I have learned is how to not raise my child how my mom raised me. I am learning how to raise my child by [Kristy,] my mom I have now. With compassion, and with love, and being honest, and being there for your child for all the right reasons.”

-Anna Gragert & Rachel Sanoff, hellogigles.com

Despite the grizzly tale of Gypsy’s life, her comments here scare me more. About 30% of abused and/or neglected children will grow up to later abuse their own children. You might reason that Gypsy stands a 70% chance of not abusing her future children to which I say, why take that chance?

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A Realist’s View of Pregnancy

Never could I wrap my head around my friends having babies without a hint of fear. I just had so many questions. What if you experience complications? What if the baby isn’t healthy? What if…what if…what if? Those who knew me well attributed my concern to anxiety. While they’re not wrong, they’re not exactly right either. In my personal experience, I’ve perceived a kind of willful ignorance in some (not all) prospective parents; a ‘hope for the best’ approach to conceiving. While I do strive for glass half-full optimism, I still fancy myself a realist. I rely on cold hard facts when making decisions. The decision about children was no different. I calculated the risk/reward ratio of pregnancy and opted not to invest and I have, what I consider, a realist’s view of pregnancy.

Risky Business

What do you think is more dangerous: contraception or pregnancy? According to researchers, the risk for young and healthy women who take birth control pills is 240 times lower than the risk of death from pregnancy-related complications. Based on news clips and article headlines, I could have thought oral contraceptives to be riskier.

“Pregnancy is more dangerous (meaning, more likely to kill you) than the following: general anesthesia, hang gliding, SCUBA diving, rock climbing, canoeing, and air travel. In fact, pregnancy is 14 times more dangerous than the next riskiest activity (hang gliding).”

I’m an Ob/Gyn and I Never, Ever Want to Be Pregnant, Lisa Torres, M.D.

I’m not keen on becoming 1 of the 600 women in the U.S. who die as a result of pregnancy-related complications each year. In fact, I think I’d rather take up hang gliding… while on birth control.

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Why I’m Choosing Dogs Over Children (And Yes, I’m a Millennial)

Millennials have somehow earned such a bad rap. We’re narcissistic and selfish. We’re entitled and we’re lazy. Except that, as a collective, we’re not any of those things. Prior to the Millennial-hatred bandwagon, the blame game was pitted against Generation X. Prior to that, I’m sure the Silent Generation was ragged on by the Baby Boomers. I suppose we all want someone to blame, other than ourselves, for the way the world is. Regardless, making a living as a millennial is quite a bit harder than it was for our parents. But it’s not just how we earn a living that becomes a point of contention, how we choose to live our lives is also criticized.

Young Americans are less likely to be homeowners, car owners or parents than their predecessors, but they do lead in one category: Pets.

– Abha Bhattarai, Millennials are Picking Pets Over People

Is choosing dogs over children so wrong? Like every question, the answer will depend on who you ask. And if you ask me, it’s so not wrong…yes, it’s right. Here’s why I’ve made this decision:

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The Rinky-DINK Life Turns One!

Last week I had the privilege of writing for The League of Fabulous Women, a lifestyle network for childfree women. Founder and childfree woman herself Chloe Peacock gave me free reign to tell the story of how I found my voice as a childfree blogger.

I began my journey as a petrified newbie.

You see, at that time I had never even uttered the word “childfree” in real life. My husband Colin and I had decided not to have children, of course, but this choice wasn’t something we advertised. To be completely honest, it wasn’t even something we were proud of. Over the years, I became comfortable considering myself as someone who didn’t have kids. If people interjected, “You don’t have kids yet,”  I’d muster a fake chuckle but I did not correct them.

This past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of my first post on the rinky-DINK life. As my article for TLFW explains, it took me many more months to speak my truth. I’m happy I bared parts of my soul and encouraged dialogue about the childfree choice.

We all can and should have a voice, not one that is only used for speaking out against the stigma, but one for teaching others about our lifestyle, one that is proactive in explaining who we are and what we stand for.

Every time I read an article or an excerpt demonizing the childfree, I admit I want to scream. But then I remember who we really are. Sure, I may be biased but I think you have to know the complicated inner workings of this dynamic before you can even begin to pass judgement. We all come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for embracing the childfree lifestyle. We’re young, old, introverted, extroverted, men, women, surgically sterile, naturally infertile… Generally speaking, most rumors about us are more akin to folk lure than reality. Perhaps its easier to vilify us as some sort of subhumans. Sorry to disappoint, though:

We are just people – people who made a different choice.

And without all of you wonderful people who made a different choice, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do or share what I have. I want to personally thank each and everyone of you for your continued support of the rinky-DINK life. Every comment, email, tweet, or shoutout means more to me than many will ever know. In an effort to empower you in your choice to be childfree, you ended up empowering me.

To celebrate our one year anniversary, we’ve got some exciting things in the works. If you haven’t already, please subscribe so I can keep you informed. 

If we haven’t met yet, please introduce yourself in the comment section below!

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The Day After Mother’s Day

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You survived yet another Mother’s Day. One of the downfalls of social media is being unable to escape current happenings, holidays, et cetera. I’m more active than ever on twitter, Instagram, and Facebook these days and while I’ve willingly made that choice, I can’t help but roll my eyes in Anderson Cooperesque fashion at the steady stream of #momlove.

I don’t have anything against moms. I have a mom (hi mom!) and I love her dearly. However, I think we would both agree that I should take advantage of the 365 opportunities per year to appreciate her, not just the one commercially-driven day. I recently heard of someone who would agree with me on this: Anna Jarvis. Just who is she?

Anna Jarvis is the founder of Mother’s Day. She created the holiday in memory of her own mother who cared for wounded soldiers in the Civil War. Jarvis’ mother may have been her source of inspiration in more ways than one since she also established a holiday of sorts – Mother’s Friendship Day. This celebration was used to establish peace between Union and Confederate moms. Although Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day from a place love and admiration, she grew to regret having created it once commercialism took over.

She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

-Jonathan Mulinix, The Founder of Mother’s Day Later Fought to Have It Abolished, mentalfloss.com

Jarvis lived out the last of her days in a mental asylum. Now, we can’t say Mother’s Day is what drove her mad but one of her last public appearances included going door-to-door petitioning Philadelphians to rescind the holiday. Hm.

Many today have similar beefs with how commercialized Mother’s Day has become, referring to it as a Hallmark holiday. Plenty of women who are not mothers also have a difficult time accepting this day as it fails acknowledge the 48% of women who do not have children and the 1 in 8 couples who are infertile.

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Adult-Friendly Restaurants: No Kids Allowed

Some new restaurants have been popping up in my area. When you live in a small town like I do, that’s a big deal. One in particular is a bar that specializes in wood fire oven pizzas, small plates, and of course alcohol. We read some good reviews and thus my husband Colin and I decided to check it out. After filling ourselves to the brim with risotto balls and spicy shrimp, we left fat and happy but even still, something left a bad taste in our mouths; about one-third of the patrons brought their children.

At this point, you may be wondering if I hate children. Although no childless or childfree person should have to justify his/her decision not to have kids, I am an over-explainer by nature so I feel compelled to clarify. I don’t dislike children, I actually really love them. I work full-time with young kids. At social functions, you’ll more than likely find me kissing on babies than socializing with my peers. My decision to be childfree was always more about not wanting to become a parent than it was about not wanting to have children.

But here we are – my husband and I shaking our heads as we exit the restaurant.

“Why would parents take their kids to a bar?” Colin asks me knowing full well neither one of us is truly qualified to give an answer. In the safety of our own vehicle, we do as is human nature and judge. It’s wrong I know, I’m working on it.

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Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

“Know what keeps a community going strong? More babies.”

Or so says the billboard I pass on my commute to work. I must’ve driven by this sign a hundred times without ever paying much mind. I suppose this is a bad thing if you’re a billboard considering getting noticed is literally your only job. As I became more resolute in my decision to be childfree, the more the words on this advertisement stood out.

So just what is this advertisement trying to sell? Specifically, a brand new maternity ward at an area hospital. But in a more general sense, this billboard is pushing something else. It’s something that really shouldn’t even be up for sale: motherhood. And the method of choice? Pronatalism.

Pronatalism? What is the meaning of this word that even predictive text cannot compute?

It’s the idea that parenthood and raising children should be the central focus of every person’s adult life. Pronatalism is a strong social force and includes a collection of beliefs so embedded that they have come to be seen as “true.”

-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World
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How to Stop Fearing Regret and Find Clarity

A few weeks ago, we delved into the topic of regret. It was once assumed that every parent loved being a parent, but we now know that’s not true. As a childfree person nearing closer and closer to thirty years old, I am often warned that I will eventually regret my decision to be childfree. While I know these people do not possess the ability to predict the future, the question tends to haunt me.

Back when I was on the fence about the decision to have children, I was most worried about regret. What if I have kids and it turns out terribly? What if I don’t have kids and start to regret it once its too late?

Just as the people questioning me cannot predict the future, neither can I. There’s really no sense trying, either. The only thing anyone can do when facing a major life decision is to consider matters carefully and choose accordingly. I’ve learned that regret itself isn’t all that bad. The fear of regret, however, can be paralyzing.

By nature, I am an indecisive person. A question like “What do you want for dinner?” can send me into a spiral in which I may never formulate an answer. However, when my husband returns from the local deli with an egg salad sandwich, I’ll quickly realize what I don’t want to eat. And that may just be the key.

Sometimes we have to figure out what we don’t want before we can figure out what we do. In my case, I had to realize that despite the fear of regret, I truly didn’t want to have children. Once I decided against parenthood, I could begin focusing on what I wanted my life to look like.

I spoke about regret and indecision with Ann Davidman, Motherhood Clarity Mentor, licensed marriage and family therapist, and co-author of Motherhood – Is It For Me? Your Step-by-Step Guide to Clarity. Ann holds comprehensive 14-week clarity courses that help women and men who are struggling with indecision about parenthood.

Here’s what Ann had to say:

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Being Childfree: Its Impact On My Relationships

Relationships are, by default, complicated. It doesn’t help that we have to balance so many of them in our lifetime, which is exceptionally difficult considering humans literally cannot multitask efficiently.

Not unlike many spouses, I view my marriage as the most important connection in my life and thus, most of my ‘relationship energy’ is funneled into its maintenance. However, this doesn’t mean I neglect my other relationships – friendships with close friends, my family, my in-laws, even my workmates – the list goes on and on.

By very definition, a relationship is the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected. But what happens when there is a break in what connects us?

For instance, I had a very close friend when I was a teenager. We spent a lot of time together doing the typical teenagery, boundary-pushing things and formed a bond based on shared interest. This friend is now married with a young child, owns a business, and lives some two hours away. The glue of our relationship – essentially, immaturity and convenience – had come undone as we aged. Many refer to this phenomenon as growing apart.

Unfortunately for the childfree, mainly those of us who are still in the “child-birthing years”, we experience this loss of connection at a seemingly more frequent rate. Many of our closest friends have gone on to have children and the bond that once held us together is severed. Rightly so; most of that ‘relationship energy’ is now set aside for their most important connection – the relationship with their child(ren).

But what about those relationships that have been affected, but not broken, by our decision to be childfree?

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The Fence-Sitter’s Guide to Anxiety and My Leap to Being Childfree

Is there a correlation between mental health and childlessness?, I started wondering while browsing the childfree sub-section of reddit.com. I had read several posts with members citing mental illness as a contributing factor to being childfree. I typed “anxiety” into the search bar. I ended my search prematurely at page 18, sensing bottomless results. Well then, does this stand to prove that yes, the childless and childfree are more anxious than parents? Well, no.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 18.1% of the US population is affected with anxiety. Perhaps, then, some of us just make up a percentage of the percentage. Myself included.

My Personal Struggle

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression as a teenager, as well as social anxiety as an adult. Even still, I was going to have children because that’s what you do, right? You just have those babies no matter what.

My husband and I married young so, despite the myriads of people asking the if’s and when’s about babies, I knew we had ample time before expanding our family. However, if we wanted the best chance for a healthy child, I determined the perfect age for me would be 27. With each passing year, I grew proportionately more anxious. I am no closer to being ready than I was this time last year. Next year will be different. Rinse, repeat.

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