Why I'm Reluctant to Write About Not Wanting Kids

Monday, July 23, 2012

baby all stars
Photo by Roy Costello
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

The other day a writer pal of mine tweeted about her fear of writing on controversial topics. I quickly jumped in (Writeous Babe to the rescue!) and reminded her that the best of essays are those that take an unpopular stance on an issue. Then she replied that she was mostly reluctant for fear that her opinion would change. I told her that was OK. I don't believe writers should ever pretend to have it all figured out. We don't have all the answers and we should admit that. "Writing is about asking questions," I tweeted. And after she marked my tweet as a favorite I felt special, like I had said something important and sage. 

Then I realized I was a hypocrite. 

Lately the thing that's been on my mind most is a controversial, unpopular choice of mine that I've been leery to write about. 

I don't want children. 

In January of 2008 I was diagnosed with a condition that would most likely make pregnancy, delivery, and life after childbirth extremely difficult for me. When people close to me, people aware of this issue, ask me why my husband and I aren't trying to have kids I use this condition as an excuse. But it's just that -- an excuse. I don't want children, and it has nothing to do with my health. 

I had a wide variety of responses ready for the moment when someone asks why I'm not trying to get knocked up: We're not quite ready. We need to put away more money in savings. We want to buy a house first. Excuse. Excuse. Excuse. 

A few months ago -- ironically on Mother's Day -- I made the decision to drop the excuses. And when random lady at the supermarket asked why my husband and I don't have kids, I boldly replied, "I don't want children." That has been my response to anyone who has asked since then. And for some reason I'm asked this question about once a week, usually by someone who can't even correctly pronounce my name and, therefore, has no business asking me something so personal. But I digress. 

I've wanted to write about the hilarious array of reactions I get to my declaration that I don't want children, but in order to do that I would have to write about the fact that I, you know, don't want children. And that I didn't want to do. 

Sure, I've written about this matter in a lighthearted manner in the past like when I wrote a column for the weekly I used to work for about remaining childless for reasons such as I didn't want my perky boobs to sag after becoming lactation stations. And like this piece I wrote for The Hairpin.

But I've never dealt with this topic seriously in my writing. Why? For the same reason my friend wouldn't tackle her tough topics -- I'm afraid I'll change my mind. At this point in my life I'm pretty sure I will not. When I was in my 20s everyone said as soon as I turned 30 I'd go baby crazy. But when that monumental birthday rolled around last year I began to feel more certain than ever that I did not want to be a mom. Still, there is a chance I could change my mind. 

No, I'm not worried about proving right all the people who said I would, in fact, change my mind. Those are the same people who think I don't want kids because I wasn't hugged enough as a child. (Growing up my brother and I never went to bed without my parents first giving us a hug, a kiss, and an "I love you.") And those are the same people who say ridiculous things like, "Motherhood is a woman's purpose and duty."  Ergo, I don't care what they think.

What I’m worried about is changing my mind, having a kid, and then one day Writeous Baby reads this post and starts yelling, “Mommy! You didn’t want me?! You don’t love me!” That is my fear. But I guess it’s too late now. The declaration that I want to remain child-free has been made and posted in cyberspace. 

And in case it's 2030 and you're reading this, Writeous Baby, please know that if you're in this world it's because I not only wanted you, but decided I couldn't live without you. 

Up-close Inspiration from Michelle Obama

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When I first learned that Michelle Obama was coming to Birmingham my heart started doing cartwheels in my chest. Yes, I have a serious girl crush on my First Lady as does nearly every woman I know. 

The general admission tickets to this special event were $200. A ticket to the preferred viewing section went for $500 and for $5,000 you could get a ticket for two that included a photo with the first lady. 

Um, yeah. After reading that I was sure I was not going to see the First Lady during her trip to the Magic City. But as luck would have it, an awesome pal of mine had access to some discounted general admission tickets and yesterday afternoon she and I had the honor of attending this special reception. 

First Lady Michelle Obama came to Birmingham, Ala., yesterday to campaign for her husband, obviously, but, to be honest with you, the November election had nothing to do with my decision to attend the event. I went to be inspired.

Snapshot of the crowd at the Michelle Obama Reception
Photo by Sherri Ross

The very sight of Michelle Obama inspires me. That might be hard for some people to understand, but let me explain. Actually, a recent Clutch magazine article by Mary Annaise Heglar explains it better than I ever could. Heglar writes of Michelle Obama:

Her very being challenges every myth about black women — we are fat, ugly, angry, stupid, and (now) single. Michelle is slender, a health nut, poised, smart, and happily married...
Michelle has undone centuries of terrible PR and outright lies. She single-handedly brought successful, well-rounded black women out of the shadows. No longer the invisible women, they now meet with the Queen of England and hula hoop on the White House lawn. She is the First Lady, the face of American womanhood to the rest of the world.

To me Michelle Obama is a rock star. This is why my friend and I were giddy like adolescent girls at a Justin Bieber concert before, during, and after the First Lady's talk. I actually screamed and jumped up and down when she took the stage clad in a sleeveless, navy dress, a black patent leather belt, and black patent leather kitten-heeled shoes.

Here I am grinning ear to ear moments before First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage.
Photo by Sherri Ross 

But yesterday was about more than Michelle Obama's celebrity. I wanted to be inspired by her words and she did not disappoint. Sure, her speech focused a lot on President Obama's accomplishments, but I'm not writing this to tell you how to vote. I'm writing this because I want you to feel as encouraged as I did as I drove home yesterday evening. 

Michelle Obama was funny, passionate, smart and down-to-earth and she was also remarkable. One of the most memorable statements she made yesterday was "Sitting on the sidelines is simply not an option." She was talking about the importance of getting apathetic friends, family members, and neighbors to vote, but this statement is one we should all apply to our lives in general. 

So many of us, too many of us, sit on the sidelines of our own lives. We sit there wishing, hoping and praying that things will happen for us, but they don't because we don't bother to get in the game. 

We're afraid. We're afraid because once we get in the game we know we'll have to run a play, we'll have to make decisions and some of those decisions could change our lives as we know it. But this is exactly why we need to get to work. 

Michelle Obama spoke about those moments when she's seen her husband wrestle with decisions he's had to make for our country. In those moments, she said, President Obama had to draw from his life experiences and his values. When making difficult decisions, she said, "it all comes down to who you are and what you stand for." 

Listening to my First Lady I realized that once you know who you are and what you're truly passionate about, you can step away from the sidelines and move onto the court. When you face the hard choices your character and your values will be your guide. Trust yourself. You can do this. I can do this. 

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pens

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writing often feels like a solitary act, a lonely occupation. Many of us create our best work in moments of quiet solitude, rubbing our tired eyes as we stare at a bright computer screen in a dimly lit room.

But any writer who thinks she can do it all on her own is kidding herself. As author Natalie Goldberg has taught me, writing is a communal act. Sometimes we need someone to help us banish writer's block or to make us submit that article, short story, poem, or proposal. Sometimes we need someone to tell us to stop talking about being a writer and actually write something for heaven's sake!

This is why I have a writing partner. For the past month or so I've been meeting with my writing partner every Tuesday afternoon at a local coffeehouse. For two hours we just sit together and write. And it is wonderful. It's hard to explain how much I enjoy our time together, but I know it simultaneously feels like recess and worship. Each pen stroke is an act of prayer and a moment of play.

I recently helped some members of See Jane Write Birmingham find writing partners and blogging mentors within our group. I call this little literary matchmaking program  The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pens, a name for which I cannot take credit (Thanks, Erin). Last night a few of the women in The Sisterhood got together for dinner at a local pizza parlor. Over slices of warm pie and glasses of cold beer, we chatted about our writing goals and the books we're reading. We dished about family drama and confessed our Twitter obsessions. And in just two hours we felt like family and were trying to figure out when we'd do this again.

Irene Grubbs, Glenny Brock, Javacia Harris Bowser (me!), Mimi Latoine, Mindy Santo, Jennifer Dome, and Amber Roberson

Writing partners Mimi and Mindy share a laugh. 
The reaction when Glenny revealed the topic of the book she's currently writing.

The hilarious Sherri and Irene

Amber and Sherri

OK, so Jesse Williams wasn't there, but I thought posting a picture of him on my blog two days in a row couldn't hurt.

Love & Literature

Monday, July 16, 2012

Photo Credit: Marcelino Rapayla Jr.
Flickr/Creative Commons

"Writers are great lovers. They fall in love with other writers. That's how they learn to write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read it over and over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses, and sees. That's what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else's skin." -- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

When I first read the passage above in Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones, I became the girl at the wedding fighting desperately to catch the bride's bouquet, the one taking off her heels so she can sprint to the front of the crowd, the one willing to take out any taffeta-clad bridesmaid who gets in her her way.

I want to fall in love again. No, not in the romantic way. I have no plans of dumping the Mister and setting off to win the heart of this guy:

I want to fall in love with a writer, a writer that I will love so much I will want to step into her skin and become her, as Goldberg muses.

I read all the time. I read blogs, magazines, compelling books on feminism, and the great works of classic American literature. But even though I love these writers, I'm not in love with them. Let me explain.

I love Edgar Allan Poe, but I don't want to write the next The Fall of the House of Usher or The Raven. I love Kate Chopin. I mean, I really, really love Kate Chopin. But I can't say I want to mimic the writing style of The Awakening, Story of an Hour, or Desiree's Baby. This early American literature teacher needs more contemporary creative non-fiction in her life.

I'm in search of a writer I can fall for head over heels. 

Perhaps you've already found your Mr. or Ms. Right (or should I say Mr. or Ms. Write), the scribe you read obsessively, the author whose craft you study like you're trying to pass a bar exam. And perhaps you're worried that instead of improving your skill that this love affair with this literary artist is going to turn you into knock-off version of your favorite writer. But here's why I'm now convinced that is not the case. 

The moment I realized I was completely and totally in love with the man who is now my husband had nothing to do with anything special he had done. In fact, he wasn't even around. I was alone in my apartment getting ready to apply eye shadow or maybe mascara and when I looked in the mirror I was shocked by a sudden epiphany -- my reflection reminded me of him.

Our beings, our lives had become so intertwined that when I looked in the mirror I thought not only of myself, but of him as well.

But wait, isn't this somehow anti-feminist? Aren't I the girl who's always preaching to her friends the importance of not losing your identity in a romantic relationship? But in no way was I lost. I was still there in that mirror. But so was he.

For too long I've believed that being truly in love with a writer would cause me to lose my voice, that the work I would produce would not be original, but just a cheap imitation of a greater scribe. But who am I kidding? Is anyone truly original?

Every word we write is somehow influenced by everything from history, literature and news to bad pop music and 140-character quote you saw on Twitter. It's all in there.

In a chapter titled "Writing Is a Communal Act" from the book Writing Down the Bones Golderg argues that falling for another writer will only make you better; "it won't make you a copy cat. The parts of another's writing that are natural to you will become you, and you will use some of those moves when you write." 

So I'm heading to the library to find the one.

Tell me about the writers you love, study and strive to become. 

Feminist Friday: How to Write a Feminist Fairy Tale

Friday, July 13, 2012

Last week I went to my favorite local movie theater not once, but twice. (I’m almost mayor of the place on Foursquare.) And even though Magic Mike and The Amazing Spider-Man were great I’m still kicking myself that I have yet to see Brave. This Pixar film follows the adventures of Princess Merida who wants to defy the customs of her kingdom and choose her own path in life.  As a feminist, I should have been at the theater to see this opening day. I need to step my game up.

Writing for Nerve.com, Sonia Saraiya ranked Disney princesses from least to most feminist. File this under “Things I Wish I’d Written.” I really need to step my game up.

Looking at Saraiya’s list I immediately noticed that the three Disney princesses ranked the most feminist were also young women of color. I found this quite ironic since women of color are constantly being told, usually by members of their own ethnicity, that they can’t be feminist. Back in May I received an email that read: “A black woman cannot be a feminist…sorry.” True story.

Does this list mean women of color are better feminists? Of course, not! What it shows is the mark of progress. These feminist fairy tales not only seek to dismantle the notion that women should be demure, one-dimensional characters depending on a prince to save them, but also challenges the notion of what a princess looks like. She doesn’t always have to have blond hair and blue eyes. (Side note: I love that Princess Merida of Brave has thick, curly hair! That might be a Disney first.)

This got me to thinking, what does it take to create feminist fairy tale? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
  • Your princess needs to actually be awake. She can’t be revolutionary if she spends half the story unconscious waiting for a dude to come kiss her. Princess Aurora, I’m talking to you.
  • Your princess needs a voice. Sure, that sounds obvious, but Saraiya reminds us that in The Little Mermaid Ariel actually trades her voice so she can have a chance with a cute boy. (Though, she should get points for rescuing said boy from drowning and for longing for a life of adventure.)
  • Your princess needs a sensible wardrobe. Not to give poor Ariel a hard time, but it’s hard to fight gender stereotypes in a clamshell bikini.
  • Your princess needs a dream. She needs goals that go beyond just finding a husband. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying marriage is anti-feminist. I love being a wife, but I also love being a writer.  Perfect example: Tiana from The Princess and the Frog wants to run her own restaurant. If that’s not progressive I don’t know what is.
  • Your princess needs to be badass. There’s really no other way to say this. For example, instead of waiting to be rescued, your princess needs to be the one saving others, yes, even men. She needs to be the hero of her own story. Check out the Nerve article to find out which Disney princess is the most feminist (and badass) of them all and let me know if you agree or not.

And while reading that article, this song kept playing in my head...

Who are you favorite Disney princesses?

21 Signs You're a Serious Blogger

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Aren't You Blogging?
Image by Mike Licht via Flickr/Creative Commons

Long ago blogging began as a form of online journaling for those with the urge to bare their souls to cyberspace. And some people realized that blogging was a great way to keep friends and family up-to-date with the details of their lives.Then one day someone figured out that a blog could be a business and even a fast track to fame. (However, if this is why you're blogging, don't quit your day job.) 

These days everybody and their pet has a blog. And I'm not saying that to be funny. See:

wonton blogging
Photo by Jim Winstead via Flickr/Creative Commons

And who doesn't love the blog I Can Has Cheezburger?

image via

Some people blog simply because it's now the "in" thing to do.  Then there are those of us who blog because we just can't help ourselves. We have something to say that we believe the world needs to hear, er, read. Some folks may say we're a bit obsessed, but they just don't understand that we're on a mission.

Here are 21 signs that you're a serious blogger:

1. You spend so much time working on your blog it's as if you two are dating.
2. You fell asleep last night with your iPad in your arms.
3. You can look at the top of your computer screen right now and find no fewer than 10 tabs open in your Internet browser.
4. You're closer to your online friends than you are to your co-workers.
5. Friends often mention your blog when they introduce you to other people.
6. Your Twitter handle is your blog's name, not yours.
7. People often refer to you by your blog name/Twitter handle... and you like it.
8. You can't have long conversations with people who still equate social media to online teenage gossip. 
9.  Whenever you're invited to an event or outing with friends you're always thinking, "Could I blog about this?"
10. When a friend tells you about a new life venture your response is always, "You should blog about that!"
11. You look forward to holidays and vacations because the time off means more time to blog.
12. Your biggest girl crush is on a successful blogger, not an actress or pop star.
13. Reading and commenting on your favorite blogs each day is as essential as taking a shower.
14.  You LOVE tweetups because they allow you to meet your favorite local bloggers IRL.
15. You use acronyms like IRL.
16. You know what the acronym SEO stands for and you can tell anyone who asks how to improve theirs.
17. You can help an aspiring blogger come up with a niche and editorial calendar over lunch. 
18. You're stashing away cash not for a new Coach bag, but to attend BlogHer, Blissdom, or some other blogging conference. 
19. "Win a blogging award" is on your bucket list. 
20. While others dream of winning the lottery and never working again, you dream of being a full-time professional blogger.
21. You keep a notebook of post ideas with wherever you go. In fact, it's probably right next to you right now.

Magic City Post - Megan LaRussa: Birmingham's style entrepreneur

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hey, babes! Check out my latest article for Magic City Post. Be sure to pass this on to anyone interested in creating a fashion career in the South. 


Alabama may not be home to any of the cities dubbed fashion capitals of the world, but that’s not stopping Megan LaRussa from turning her passion for fashion and sense of style into a successful career. LaRussa runs the website SouthernFemme.com and is a style coach and fashion event planner. She also writes a monthly style feature for Birmingham Magazine.
While some may think Alabama is an unlikely place to carve out a career in fashion, LaRussa has found Alabama to be the perfect stage on which to style her professional goals.
“We as Southerners take pride in our heritage and ourselves and thus dress accordingly,” LaRussa said. “Southern women, for the most part, take pride in their appearance and enjoy getting dressed up in feminine pieces like sundresses.  Take college football games as a prime example.  Southern women dress to the nines for these games, while in other parts of the country women simply wear jeans and their team’s jersey.”
You can read the complete article at Magic City Post

Celebrating Julia Bluhm and Finding Hope in New Media

Monday, July 9, 2012

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Eighth-grader Julia Bluhm made history and headlines last week when her petition and protests led to Seventeen magazine pledging to not ever alter the face and body shapes of young women featured in its editorial pages. 

After hearing too many girls in her ballet class complain about their weight, Bluhm launched a petition on Change.org in April calling for the magazine to print one unaltered photo spread each month. Later she held a demonstration at the corporate offices of Hearst, the company that owns Seventeen. The petition garnered over 84,000 signatures. 

Last week the New York Times reported that. Ann Shoket, the magazine’s editor in chief, wrote in the editor’s letter in the August issue that the magazine had drafted a "Body Peace Treaty," promising not to change girls' body or face shapes (something Shoket insists the magazine has never done, anyway) and to include only images of real girls and healthy models. This is no doubt a response to Bluhm's campaign. 

As a feminist, this story makes me rejoice with the hope that perhaps we will see more and more magazines  start to feature realistic images and celebrate all types of beauty. As a writer, I can't help but think about the fact that Bluhm's crusade would not have been a success without new media. 
Not only did the Internet allow Bluhm to collect more than 80,000 signatures, but the Web also offers plenty of competition for magazines like Seventeen, as Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out on her show Saturday. With a host of blogs and online publications out there offering girls the tailored beauty, fitness, and fashion advice they could once only find in Seventeen, even this iconic magazine knows that despite its status readers are precious and their complaints need to be taken seriously. 
Many writers are afraid of what new media means for our future. Does it mean the death of newspapers, magazines and print books? I don't know. I hope not, but it could. But that doesn't mean our voices will be silenced. Julia Bluhm's story shows us that new media is a great opportunity for all of us -- whether we're activists or artists -- to make our voices heard like never before. 

Maybe you're a rebel with a cause who starts a petition like Bluhm did, or writer who publishes an e-book that inspires legions of people, or a blogger who creates an online publication that's an alternative to the magazines out there that don't seem to tell the stories of your community. 

I live in a city where many of the local newspaper reporters were recently laid off. And the newspaper at which I worked before I moved here no longer exists. So, I have good reasons to have a woeful attitude about new media, but stories like Julia Bluhm's reminds me I have a good reason to have a hopeful attitude instead. 

In Memory of Mando Montano and His Love for Journalism

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

journalism’s public service functions: accountability, timeliness and accessibility @ Melanie Sil @melaniesill #openjournalism
Photo Credit: Ron Mader via Flickr/Creative Commons

Yesterday morning when I logged onto my favorite social networking sites I was immediately faced with the sad news of the death of Armando Montano, a 22-year-old Associated Press intern. Montano, who was working this summer as a news intern for the AP bureau in Mexico City, Mexico, was found dead early Saturday. 

Montano’s body was found in the elevator shaft of an apartment building near where he was living. The circumstances of his death are being investigated by Mexican authorities.

Even though I didn't know Montano, news of his death hit me hard and not just because he was so young. In the summer of 2003, I too was an AP intern. Montano and I were also both part of the Chips Quinn Scholars program, which offers journalism students of color hands-on training in journalism and mentoring by caring news veterans.

In a Nov. 2007 column for the Denver Post, Montano, who was a Colorado Springs, Colorado resident, wrote about his desire to become a journalist despite the fact that most people would consider journalism a dying field. He wrote: 

Journalism is changing, newspaper circulation is falling, and people are even turning away from broadcast news. So why do I want to be a journalist in this day and age?
For the thrill of getting a hot story. So I can inform the public about wrongdoing. So I can be part of a system that represents and protects democracy.
Just because journalism is changing doesn't mean that we have to discard its best principles. From where I stand — a high school teenager looking for my life's direction — those principles are easy to find.

Chuck Dean, senior political reporter for The Birmingham News, shared his reflections on Montano's words yesterday on Twitter and said that though he's been a reporter for a generation he's "never read better words about why good reporters do what they do or better advice as our craft changes." I couldn't agree more. 

Regardless of your profession, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here from someone who was only beginning to live his life. No matter how circumstances shift and the landscape around you changes, hold on to principles. Ask yourself why you pursued this profession, this passion, in the first place and figure out a way to carry out that purpose no matter what. 

Thank you, Mando, for your wise words. 

Monday Motivation: You Can't "Have It All" But You Can Have "That"

Monday, July 2, 2012

There are three reasons why I wasn’t going to write anything about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s wildly popular cover story for The Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

1. Even though I’m a woman, I don’t feel like the “Can Women Have It All?” conversation is addressing me. This discussion is about women being both mothers and top professionals and since I don’t have kids I guess I’m a loser that's not even attempting to have it all.

2. Slaughter’s article was so loooong after I read it I wanted to tap a nap, not write a blog post.

3. Anything I could have written about Slaughter’s article was better stated by Lindy West in her insightful and hilarious piece for Jezebel.com, No One ‘Has It All,’ Because ‘Having It All’ Doesn’t Exist.

So why did I finally decide to write about Slaughter's essay? Well, I didn't. Actually, I've decided to write about a segment from Saturday morning's episode of Melissa Harris-Perry Show, a segment that made me realize that perhaps women can't "have it all" but we can have "that."

What's "that"? Well, that's up to you. 

On Saturday’s show actress and social commentator Nancy Giles made a statement that you may not have even paid much attention to as it was squeezed in just before a commercial break. She said that when she began her acting career she heard an actress she admired say: “I can play anything from a man to a speck of dust.” Initially she thought that this was what she wanted too, then she realized she’d be much better off  by focusing on what she does best and perhaps everyone should follow suit instead trying to have it all. “Find something that you do and you love and it’s OK to focus on one thing and not be all over the place with your life out of balance,” she said. 

Now, I’m not saying women need to just pick one: parent or professional. And I don't think that's what Giles meant either. 

What I’m talking about is purpose and personal calling. Whether you have children or not, chances are your life hasn’t turned out exactly the way you wanted. I know mine hasn’t. And maybe you didn’t accomplish many of the things on your 30 before 30 list. But take a close look at that list and ask yourself exactly why you set these goals.

For example, one of my goals in life was to move to New York and start a women’s magazine. I wanted to do this because I wanted to connect with and inspire other women. But this is something I can do whether I'm a magazine editor in New York or an English teacher in Alabama. I can find small ways to empower women every single day of my life even if that magazine dream never comes true.

So you may be struggling to balance motherhood and your career. (I mean, has anyone, male or female figured out how to perfectly balance their personal and professional lives?) You may not be able to achieve everything on your bucket list and be mom of the year. But go back to your purpose, go back to the reason you set those goals in the first place and consider how you fulfill this calling anyway. 

At this point in life I can't quit my job, leave my husband and head to the Big Apple. Well, I guess I could but   the Mister probably wouldn't like that very much. So, no, I probably can’t have it all, but when it comes to my dream of inspiring women – I can certainly have that. 

What is your purpose? How can you live it out right here, right now?