"Most of the women I work with," the counselor was saying, "want to be married. They're in their 30s to early 40s, and now they're looking to find a man.
"They start to get frantic-- 'Where can I find a man? The right man. A good man!' . . . They thought Mr. Right would just pop up. But now you've got to go out and really look for them."
And they aren't just looking for Mr. He'll Do. They are looking for someone worthy of the title of Dad.
The women of whom Alice Dollinger speaks might be considered the innocent bystanders of Mother's Day. With May 8 closing fast and so many biological clocks ticking so loud, Dollinger, an Encino psychotherapist, issued a press release:
"While millions of women are being honored on Mother's Day, those women who are childless, either by choice or by circumstance, suffer from feelings of isolation , failure and guilt. "
In her statement, Dollinger underlined those words. Hallmark doesn't make Mother's Day cards for these women, which is probably a good thing. But come Saturday, they are invited to a workshop that Dollinger promises to be free of both price and guilt. The purpose, the press release explains, is "to empower childless women to deal with the pressures and expectations of friends, family and society."
Speaking of guilt, I have a confession to make. My initial response to Dollinger's release was a snide chuckle. After all, not all victims of Mother's Day are so innocent. I couldn't help but think of Connie Chung, celebrity journalist, who appeared on the cover of People magazine proclaiming that she wanted to have a baby.
That was August, 1990. That month, Chung turned 44. She had success, fame, fortune--and now she wanted a baby?
But the more I thought about it, the more I felt sad for her. This past winter, instead of feeding a baby, Chung helped feed the media frenzy over Tonya Harding in Lillehammer.
And now I feel guilty about this feeling of sadness. What, after all, is the proper attitude, the proper etiquette, on the subject of childless women who wish to have children? Are feelings of pity appropriate? Or does such sympathy only serve to perpetuate societal expectations and those attendant feelings of isolation, failure and guilt?
This is not a comfortable topic. Even as I write these words, I can imagine some readers, perhaps people close to me, feeling pangs over the subject matter.
"This is a topic that most women don't talk about," Dollinger explained. "It's so painful they keep it to themselves. So this is the beginning of opening up."
Dollinger figures three types of women may be interested in her workshop. The first are traditionally minded women who always planned on having children and for whatever reason are unable to conceive or carry a child to birth. The second are women who are ambivalent about the idea of motherhood--and often marriage as well.
The third group are "women who have really taken in the women's movement and make a conscious choice not to have children--to not base her identity solely on being a mother." These women, Dollinger says, have come to terms with their own feelings about motherhood. "Their problem is dealing with everyone else's expectations."
Dollinger said she expects women in the first two groups, the traditional and the ambivalent, to be the most interested in the workshop, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at 1601 Ventura Blvd. The topics include "external and internal pressure," "working through feelings of isolation, shame and guilt" and "grieving and acceptance."
Dollinger, the mother of two grown children, learned about the deep pain some childless women feel through the experience of a confidante. Through her, she also learned that Mother's Day is a reminder of something lost.
"I think the women that do decide to come" to the workshop, Dollinger said, "are in a place in their lives where they want to switch from feeling like a victim to being a survivor. They want to move on."
It's times like these when one stops and thinks, gee, but it's nice to be a man. We don't worry much about biological clocks. We can put off regrets and self-recrimination for years to come.
Then again, Mother's Day has a way of making us feel guilty too.
The other day, I called up my folks to ask them about their mothers. The former Ella Effie Rhymes had 12 children, including my father. The former Frankie Calhoun had 10, including my mother.
Mothers, I suspect, still do most of the heavy lifting.
But son-hood is hardly guilt-free.
My mom had just one comment when I told her I was writing about the anguish of childless women.
"Well, I'm not childless. I'm grand childless," she said. "I did my part."
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311.