Two Ashland sisters have written a book for what they say is a large, long-suffering but rarely discussed group of women: those quietly grieving over missed motherhood.
"It's just not talked about in our society, though it comes up over and over for 75 percent of women," even for those who eventually have children, says Kani Comstock of Ashland, author with sister Barbara Comstock of the new book "Honoring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice and Creativity."
Some women had abortions or adopted out their children. Others suffered miscarriages, experienced infertility or waited too long to try to conceive. Still others chose not to have children but later experienced feelings of loss.
What: Reading from ""Honoring Missed Motherhood" by Kani Comstock
When: 7 p.m. today, Jan. 23
Where: Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St., Ashland
Kani Comstock, a married and educated scientist, saw her life go off-track at age 26, when she had surgery and was told she could never have children.
"It changed everything I did and planned to do," Comstock says. "I had a master's degree in biochemistry, a career in cell dynamics, and we planned to have children. It was devastating for me. It was never spoken."
After a divorce and career change — into education — she became a teacher in the Hoffman Process, a weeklong personal growth retreat. Here, Comstock kept running into more and more women who were suffering in silence from the same set of circumstances around childlessness.
"We don't know how to deal with loss in this culture," she says. "We're told to get over it, get busy and forget about it. But when I spoke to women, the tears would start running down their faces. The loss needs to be honored, respected, validated and let in."
As Comstock began interacting with these women, she found sometimes all it took was a simple ritual — giving them a flower and directing them to go off alone and say goodbye and whatever else needed to be said, then listen for a possible reply from the baby who never was.
"A woman without children is always outside the culture," she says. "It's one of the first things people ask a woman, if she has children. If she says no, they say that's too bad or something equally insensitive. Having kids is one of the defining experiences in this culture. And if you had an abortion or adopted a child out, it's a huge secret that you may only tell your partner."
For her self-published book, Comstock interviewed a dozen women and found a common thread of shame around not having kids, for whatever reason, along with the idea that the emotional wounding is something that needs to be fixed.
"What they need is for us to be supportive," she says.
"Sophia," one of several Ashland women who tell their stories in the book, says she had an abortion in young adulthood, then never had children after that.
"I sort of wish I had kids but my life has been rich and full, so I haven't dwelled on it," says Sophia, who did not want to be identified by her real name. "It didn't tear my life apart or anything. I'm one of those people who tried not to think about it. It felt good to be given a rose and acknowledged. It's such a hot political and cultural topic, abortion. No one can talk about it. You just carry it around. I'm so glad Kani is having a group for women to talk about it, all the ways they missed motherhood."
Wherever mothers are honored for being mothers, such as in church on Mother's Day, there are just as many women suffering for losing or never having children, Comstock says.
"It's an awful day for so many women — horrible, humiliating and shaming," she says.
As a board member of Unity Church in Ashland, Comstock put the ritual on a different track, celebrating the creativity of women in all ages and categories — mom, teen, elder and more.
"It was a huge success," she says, adding that society needs to recognize and act "as if we were all connected and these women belong in the human race. They must be included."
Comstock has a website, www.missedmotherhood.com, and plans a workshop on the topic April 26-27 in Ashland. She is also starting "sharing circles" to get the door open for women to talk about missing motherhood. The first one is free, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11.
She will also give a reading at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 23, at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.