Our secret grief

A while back, I wrote a post about the Savvy Auntie, a book and blog by Melanie Notkin. She writes about the joys of being a childless aunt. I highly recommend you check her out. Even with the joys of aunthood, Melanie admits to grieving over the children she never had. Earlier this month, she published an article in Psychology Today titled, “My Secret Grief: Over 35, Single, and Childless.” It’s a touching piece about that grief that people with kids don’t always understand. After all, they think, we could have had children. If we didn’t, it’s our own fault. You and I know that’s not always true. Melanie tells it well.

Last week, I went to lunch with a bunch of church ladies. Inevitably, much of the conversation focused on their children. People talked about their latest escapades, compared their ages, remembered how they were growing up. A friend showed photos of her pregnant daughter-in-law’s sonogram. I didn’t have much to say. Finally, a woman across from me said, “You have kids, don’t you, Sue?” “No, I don’t,” I said. “I thought you did.” “Nope.” And then there was this silence. You know that silence? Oh yes.

A younger woman who arrived late took the seat beside me. I noticed her sparkling engagement ring, and she smilingly admitted that she and her fiance had finally set a date. They have been together off and on for seven years. She is anxious to have children, but now she’s in her 40s and doesn’t know if she can. “If it’s God’s will, I’ll get pregnant,” she said. I believe in God, but I wanted to wring her fiance’s neck. Does he not understand that if you wait too long, you lose the chance to have kids? Seven years. Grrr.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. You know what? It’s okay to grieve, but it’s also okay to just get mad. Then maybe we can do something about it.

7 thoughts on “Our secret grief

  1. I get that too. Ooh, I thought you had children.” Chirp, chirp.I work out of my home and often have clients to the house. I have set hours and oftentimes a well-meaning person will say, “Oh isn't 7:00 too late – I don't want to get in the way of you putting your children to bed.”Other times people will ask, “How many children do you have?” Not even “do you have any children?”It makes me sad because it's a clear insinuation that I SHOULD have children.When I answer “no”, I can see them mentally taking stock. Maybe sizing me up to think of how old I might be. And then to consider WHY after 9 years of marriage I do not have children. Then maybe speculating that my body can't. One woman apologized for asking me, saying that she has a niece who is going through infertility and she should have known better than to pry into my life. It never occurred to her that medically I'm strong – but marriage wise I'm weak. I envy that ignorance she has because I assume it means that marriage, children and the whole thing was probably a breeze for her. A no brainer.Too much speculation into my personal life if you ask me. At 37 I'm giving my marriage all I've got. My husband is trying. He really is trying to be a better man and to get to a healthy place. I feel blessed to see this transformation. I understand that I'm making my own choice to stay and see this through. But it sure does make me mad at times.I've taken to saying, “we don't get to choose the challenges that God places upon us.” True enough – this is my challenge and it may cost me. It's not that I seriously yearn for a child at this point. I'm not even sure that IS what I want anymore. But staying is a real gamble. What if I think differently in a couple years and then it really is too late?I keep telling myself that I'm exactly where God wants me to be and that if I'm meant to be a mother (in any capacity) then God will make it so. Still, some days you just want to know how it will all end and what is going to happen. The mystery of it all is sometimes too much.Thanks again, Sue. It's lovely to have this place. Sara


  2. Oddly enough this happened again last night. Idle chit chat with an older woman led to, “do you have children?”

    Nope, we have dogs.” (a bit of dog related conversation followed)

    “So, you aren't going to have kids?”

    “Don't know.”

    She nodded, thinking about this for a moment before revealing that she had a child late in life. A “surprise” really.

    We were interrupted and funnily enough I was disappointed that the conversation was over. For once I felt like someone had something to offer. She was a genuinely lovely person and I think I appreciated the candid conversation. I certainly prefer that to the stilted “oh, well. Don't worry, it will happen.”



  3. so glad to find your blog. Sometimes I feel very alone with this…other times I feel guilty, angry and disappointed. It's nice to read other women's comments and your blog.


  4. This post really touched me.

    Today, at work, a colleague who recently fell pregnant was sharing her news with us. After a few minutes, one of the women with children turned to me – only one without children – and apologized that I would have to listen to talk of babies for the next several months. And despite knowing that she did not mean harm, the secret grief you speak about hit me. Because how do you explain to people that you secretly hope that one day, you too will be allowed to excitedly talk about babies like that?


  5. I've been trying to figure out why I don't want to attend my niece's wedding shower. I love my niece. I love her friends, those that I remember. This shower will be attended by my sister's friends, though, no bride's friends. And the bride's other childless aunt died last year. She never wanted kids, but I just realized how much comfort I got from her often inappropriate eye-rolling or snide asides to me about “them” and “us.” Back when I was trying to have kids, her comments hurt, quite a lot actually, but now I know I will miss her, while all the moms talk about their daughters' weddings, past or future, and my only relief will be some deep breaths in the bathroom.

    Thanks for your writings. It makes me feel less alone and crazy.


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