By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Former local resident's book examines childlessness

Kate Twitchell Kaufmann
Kate Twitchell Kaufmann

Kate Twitchell Kaufmann loved living in Carlton —it was a great community and she made many friends, including those she met while volunteering at the elementary school and participating in plays at McMinnville’s Gallery Theater.

But in one way, she said, she felt a little out of place at first. It seemed everyone she met in the area had children, while she did not.

Kaufmann, who has realized she’s not the only non-mother in the area, addresses the issue of childlessness, by choice or circumstance, in her newly published book, “Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No.”

She and local women she interviewed will be featured in a panel discussion Sunday, April 7, at the Linfield College library. The free event will run from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Kaufmann and her husband moved to Carlton in 1994. In part, they were looking for a fresh start without the associations of their old home, where they had hoped, tried and failed to have children, she said.

She underwent fertility treatments and was told the next step was IVF. “That’s a step too far,” she said they decided.

Seciding to end their efforts took an emotional toll, and they decided to relocate.

Kaufmann, 67, was born in Michigan, lived in New York, then grew up in the Bay Area of California. She is the eldest of four girls; the second-oldest is four years younger.

“I was the first-choice babysitter,” she said.

As a young adult, she said, she was unsure about wanting children. But when “the hormones got more insistent” and friends started families, she and her husband decided to try.

Pregnancy didn’t happen for the couple, despite medical intervention. Moving to a new place seemed like a good plan, and it was, for the most part. They love Oregon, she said, but settling in Carlton put them in “a place where (it seemed) everyone has kids.”

They moved to the coast in 2008, then to Portland. That probably wouldn’t have happened if they’d had children, she said. Being childless gave them the freedom to “pick up and change, try different things”; if they’d had kids in school, she said, they probably would have stayed put.

Without children to shape her schedule, she said, she also was able to spend evenings rehearsing for shows at Gallery Theater.

Kaufmann eventually broached the subject of childlessness with other non-mothers.

“I approached them carefully,” she said, “some were childless by choice, some weren’t — I understand life unfolds differently.”

While taking graduate courses toward her MFA, she realized a book on the topic would combine her personal experiences with her interests in writing, psychology and research.

The creative writing program helped her find an agent and publisher. And, it turned out, her agent didn’t have children either, leading to instant rapport.

“I started gathering stories,” Kaufmann said. She interviewed women “from their early 20s to a 91-year-old” who discussed how their lives had been shaped by not having children.

Most were glad to talk, once she built their trust, she said. She generally did a pre-interview, in which they decided what topics to cover, then a more detailed interview a week later.

“It’s really not my book — it belongs to all the women who shared their stories,” she said. “I’m just the steward of their stories.”

Kaufmann started with women she knew, such as Jenny Berg, director of the McMinnville Public Library, and Bobbi Hartwell, who owned The Filling Station deli in Carlton. Those contacts led to others, until she’d spoken with three dozen women from all over Oregon and southwest Washington.

“There was no interview in which I didn’t learn something ... I personally benefited from the knowledge and wisdom of these other women,” she said.

When someone is expecting, Kaufmann said, she’s taken into the fold by other women who share what they’ve learned. The same should be true of non-mothers, she said; we all have wisdom to share.

After meeting her interview subjects, she said, “I look at my life through different eyes now.”

While working on the interviews, Kaufmann attended a conference for childless women, the “ Summit.” Organizers run a website by that name.

“Walking into that room, knowing every person there had no kids ... that was remarkable,” she said, recalling the conferences in 2015 and 2017.

She also spoke with gender studies researchers at the University of Dayton in Ohio. When she started, she said, little research had been done on childless women. In fact, she said, “there’s no word to describe us” —no neutral word, at least, just negative ones such as “crone” or “childLESS.”

“In many ways, (women without children) are not really understood,” she said, “but there are all kinds of ways we take care of others and give.”

Mothers are automatically revered in society, with good reason, Kaufmann said. But women without children have often been looked at askance, scorned or pitied.

That’s changing somewhat as traditional roles evolve, she said, but still, non-mothers don’t always receive the respect they deserve.

Some woman interviewed for her book said they always knew they wouldn’t be mothers; others traded one dream for another. Some say they appreciate the freedom to pursue their interests; most say they are happy.

Kaufmann encourages both women and men to discuss the subject of having no children — her book even includes a guide with possible questions to ask. She said she wants to open the door to conversations.

“There are still stereotypes out there about people who don’t have children, but we don’t know much about their life experiences,” she said. “They’re pretty darn rich.”

Women who have no children are as diverse as those who do, she said.

“It’s a bell curve,” Kaufmann said, “but in that way, we’re all traveling the same path. And there’s enough room for all of us.”


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