Author Tags: Sex, Women

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: "I grew up in Saskatchewan, conducted a decade or so of my journalism career working in newspapers in Alberta, then returned to university for my MA and PhD in Canadian literature. I have taught English at the University of Alberta, journalism at Carleton University and now I teach journalism and creative non-fiction at the University of Victoria. In addition to my teaching, I am a freelance writer, editor and arts commentator."

Formerly the book page editor for the Edmonton Journal, Lynne Van Luven, a journalist since 1968, earned her Ph.D in Canadian Literature from University of Alberta and has taught writing and journalism since 1992.

As an instructor at the University of Victoria, she co-edited Pop Can: Popular Culture in Canada (Prentice Hall, 1999) and edited Going Some Place (Coteau, 2000), an all-Canadian collection of the "magpie prose" that has evolved into a new genre called creative non-fiction.

At the end of her third anthology Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids (Touchwood, 2006 $19.95), Van Luven recalls her “nefarious mission” at age 34, following a divorce, to get pregnant via a series of haphazard encounters with men in Greece. Now thankful that no progeny resulted from those escapades, she concludes, “I admit that the older I get, the more provoked I am by people’s unspoken assumptions about childless women. And I am impatient with myself for the years I spent feeling lesser because unchilded. I’m now of the Popeye Philosophy: “I yam what I yam.” Flawed, fumbling still, I yam trying to be a decent human being, a principled teacher, a caring daughter, sister, aunt and friend and, most recently, a good man’s wife. (I’ll keep track of all those new babies’ birthdays until I lose my marbles for good.) Most of all, in my remaining years, I want to be a more productive member of the larger society around me. That’s my crop. I’ll tend it the best way I’m able.” 1-894898-40-0

Somebody's Child (Touchwood 2011) is an anthology of personal essays about adoption, co-edited by Bruce Gillespie, editor of Nobody's Father (2008), and Lynne Van Luven, editor of Nobody's Mother (2006). "Somebody's Child incorporates Canadian and American stories of every member affected by the adoption process: adoptive parents, adoptees, birth parents, grandparents, siblings and even foster families. Some essays discuss regret and longing, while other embrace hope and inclusion. Somebody's Child also includes stories of transracial adoption and the search for identity adoptees can face."

DATE OF BIRTH: 26 August, 1947

PLACE OF BIRTH: Lipton, Saskatchewan


ANCESTRAL BACKGROUND: English and Pennsylvania Dutch if we go back three generations

EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: university teacher, freelance journalist and editor


Pop Can: Popular Culture in Canada (Prentice Hall, 1999)

Going Some Place: Creative Non-Fiction Across Canada (Coteau Books, 2000)

Nobody's Mother: Life Without Kids (Touchwood Editions, 2006)

Somebody's Child (Touchwood 2011)

In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body (Brindle & Glass 2012. Co-editor.

[BCBW 2012] "Women"

Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids (Touchwood $19.95)

Twenty-one non-mothers who are skilled writers—such as Kate Braid, Maria Coffey, Lorna Crozier, Maggie de Vries, Katherine Gordon, Hannah Main-van der Kamp and Rita Moir— have contributed to Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids (Touchwood $19.95), edited by Lynne Van Luven (above right). It provides a forum for women without children to examine their various choices and circumstances. Roughly one in every ten Canadian women is choosing not to have babies. Written on Gabriola Island, here is the foreword to Nobody’s Mother by CBC radio host Shelagh Rogers.

I have just turned 50 as I write this. There are a lot of things I feel I am grasping at last: being comfortable in my own skin, beginning to feel oddly sexy at a time when Germaine Greer says women become invisible to society. I am excited about what the next act will bring. There’s some mystery to it. But one thing I know for sure: it will not bring children I bear myself. And finally, I am happy with that. But it has taken a while.

The first flush of baby-love rose up in me like a primordial swell when I was in my late 20s. It seemed to arrive overnight. I felt I was swimming in that lake where women down through the ages had swum. And I needed to find a mate. (It really wasn’t quite that clinical but, looking back on it now, I see it as, if not an imperative, at least some kind of directive.)

As so often happens, as soon as I stopped consciously searching, I found “the guy.” If I’d had a list at the time, every box would have been checked off. He looked like Gary Cooper, he loved Mozart and Bessie Smith, he was a writer, he played hockey, he was funny (worked on the Harvard Lampoon!). He wrote me a letter a day for years, even when I was in the next room.

But it didn’t work out with him. And just as that fact was sinking in, I had days on end when I felt fatigued, nauseated, headachey, sick to my stomach, when I had pelvic pain. And then I missed a period. I went back to him and said, “Hey, I’m pregnant,” like some film-noir heroine in a last-ditch attempt to keep her man from slipping away. It didn’t change his mind about us. I felt angry and sad and decided not to continue with the pregnancy.

It turned out I wasn’t pregnant at all. What was growing in there were some advancing cervical cancer cells. I had the surgery and “poof,” they were gone. After that, it was six-month rounds of (can we talk, sister?!) pap smears and cone biopsies. I was told I might not have been the best candidate to have children anyway because I had a severely prolapsed uterus.

Prolapsed. That was the word. It described exactly how I felt, as though I had fallen or slipped out of place, like my uterus. And just as I was trying to deal with this, all of a sudden almost every woman I knew was having a baby. I was happy for them. I had to be. They seemed focused, serene, fulfilled. As their worlds became smaller, their hearts became larger. Even if they were exhausted, they seemed to glow. And they were swimming in that lake I wanted to swim in, where women could just look at each other with a deep, shared understanding that they were all part of a chain of life.

I felt very unhappy for myself. I wanted in, and for a lot of reasons, I was out. No partner, bad physical prognosis, demanding job which I let consume me. Despite my outward mantle of success, I was sick at heart. And I didn’t deal with it very well. Believing I had nothing to offer them beyond my imagining of motherhood, I withdrew from some of my oldest child-bearing friends. I was openly jealous of my sister, a new mom with a different, more profound relationship with our mom. So I got to be a failure on a number of fronts: as a woman, sister and friend. And for years, I wallowed in it.

But gradually, the wave of baby-desire receded.

Then I got together with the man I would eventually marry. He already had children: one son in his 20s, a daughter in her mid-teens and a son who was 10. I felt The Wave coming back. I wanted a child of our own.

My husband felt he already had a family, and indeed he did. I remember talking to him about the extraordinary measures I would go to, to have a child. And he would have to reverse a vasectomy. But it wasn’t going to happen. I was so frustrated and hurt to recognize this last chance eluding me that I picked up a salt cellar and hurled it into a wall. It made a perfect, cellar-like indentation—a mark of my anger that I refused to cover up.

I started to work on a relationship with my husband’s kids. It took us some time to get used to each other. I knew I wasn’t going to step into a mothering role with them. They had (and have) a perfectly lovely woman who is, in fact, their mother. At first, I thought I would be lucky if we could be sort-of friends. It was a rough couple of years, mostly because I tried too hard to do things for them and was sickeningly nice. Fortunately, I couldn’t keep it up; the more human I became, the more we started to communicate. I never, however, felt at all maternal—more fraternal than anything.

We have all warmed up to each other. I can say without reservation that I love them and I am grateful to have them in my life. But I will always wonder (and now my younger friends are having babies and raising children): have I missed out on one of the greatest experiences a woman can have? Are mothers happier? Or just a different kind of happy? Are they more fulfilled? More topped-up as humans? Maybe the answers, whatever they may be, lie ahead in these pages.


--from Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids (2006)