We are entitled to grieve for the children we never had

In nearly 300 posts at this blog, the one that has engendered the most comments is is a two-paragraph entry I posted in 2007. Titled “Are You Grieving Over Your Lack of Children?” it quotes a newspaper article about a woman dealing with childless grief, then asks the readers, “Have you come to terms with not having children?” We’re up to 98 comments so far, with new ones coming almost every day.

Clearly grief is a big issue for us. People who are not in our situation don’t seem to get it. They’ll tell us “oh well, you can adopt” or “the world has two many people in it anyway” or “get over it” or even “sometimes I wish I didn’t have any kids.”

It’s not that easy, is it? When we want children and we don’t get to have them, we have lost something huge. In some ways, it’s like a death. We have lost the children we would have had, along with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If we hang up stockings at Christmas, there will be only two–or one if we’re single. When we see someone cuddling their new baby, we feel pain. At all the times when our parenting friends celebrate the milestones in their children’s lives, we feel left out.

Yes, there are advantages as well as losses to life without children. We are free to do things we couldn’t do if we were raising children. We miss a lot of heartache and frustration along with the good times. And yes, we can be beloved aunts or uncles, teachers or friends to other people’s kids.

However, we have a right to grieve. And the grief will come back again and again, like any big loss. Does it get easier with time? Yes. Being past menopause has helped a lot. But the grief never completely goes away. Just last night, I found myself crying over a TV show where a baby was born. Again!

All I’m saying is we’re entitled to feel the loss of the children we might have had.

I welcome your comments. 

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49 thoughts on “We are entitled to grieve for the children we never had

  1. We are entitled to have any feeling, including sadness over no children. But my stance remains solid that, not having children, is not death. It is a conscious choice. Medically unable, adopt. No child by choice?…then lets fill our life with positive fillers, or good joo-joo as I call it, and look forward, and not dwell on what could have been. On a personal note, my mom told be once any one can make a baby, but it takes a real man to be a father. For those who can not, or choose not to have children, I encourage them to go fill their life with happiness in other ways. Adopt, volunteer at elementary schools or to chaperone the local high school prom. Be a baseball coach, or become a leader in a church for youth. We have the power of choice, and we can fill our post-child-less life with several activities that will make us whole.

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  2. I grieve lots at the children I am never to have. I'm 42 and I fantasize almost daily that I accidentally get pregnant and have a little miracle baby. But, alas, my husband adamantly does not want that (nor do I think its wise given my age). Most of the time, I don't feel the extreme wave of sadness until something triggers it. Today that was a friend's announcement on Facebook that she is expecting complete with ultrasound picture. I came home in such a happy mood and now I find myself plummeting toward my dark, childless hole. I'm sure I'll be fine but in the moment…it hurts!

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  3. And here we have both sides of the story. Childlessness is not death, you're right, Anonymous #1. But it is a loss, and it does hurt, as Anonymous #2 tells us. I think it's important to acknowledge that pain and know that we have a right to grieve. But I also agree that one can't stay in that grieving place forever. After a while, we need to move on and do whatever we need to do to fill the gap. If we just can't move on, it's okay to seek help, in the form of therapy or whatever it takes.

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  4. Society is good at telling what we should or shouldn't grieve. Infertile women are told to get over themselves while such an ordeal was made over people like Michelle Duggar from “19 Kids and Counting” and the loss of the 20th baby at 5 months gestation. While Just because a woman has never been pregnant isn't meaning she doesn't grieve. There have been discussions on the 19 kids facebook page about taking a risk like her. I had to straighten them out and said some can't have one kid. Then you get accused of being bitter toward those who have kids. Yes it is easy to be bitter when one woman keeps risking her life knowing the possibility of something like what happened to baby #20. They rally around her and tell infertiles to shut up. Like I said I am sorry for anyone going through that but the pain is no less when you can't conceive.

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  5. I believe you've hit on a part of why so many childless by chance women stay quiet. It's not only that it can be perceived as 'whining' by the rest of the world. It is true grief. No one runs around always talking about their dead mother, for example, if they know they'll be in tears after a single sentence.

    Our triggers are omnipresent and offered to us by people who, even if they intellectually know of our pain, don't seem to see our repeated hurts and how something as “simple” as a sonogram is a saber blade.

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  6. Sue Fagalde Lick said…” And the grief will come back again and again, like any big loss. ” VERY true words, Sue ! I'm 66 yrs old and single,childless *not* by choice, and most any woman and especially group of women my age will be appropriately and understandably be talking on ( and on ) about children and mostly grandchildren. ” Moving on ” is hard enough but the frequent ” being a wife/mother is what we're put on earth to do ” ” children/grandchildren are blessings from God ” type expressions make me feel even more like an abject outsider and NOT “blessed” or deemed unworthy.

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  7. There is an article from a UK writer entitled “Mothers:Stop Your Moaning” Then the writer is told to stop whining about moaning mothers. Kind of iron huh? They fail to see her point. Yes parents moan like everyone but the author is saying they should stop moaning about how hard parenthood is because she has to deal with the pain of not having kids.

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  8. My situation is different. I am a 40 year old with two sons from a previous marriage. My partner is a lot younger than me and has no children. He knew that we wouldnt have kids when he propsed, but lately he has become depressed about not having his own children. I says he loves me, but isnt sure what he wants anymore. He has moved out and is totally pushing me away. I understand that he is grieving, i understand has I have had miscarriages, so I know how it feels to lose something you never really had. I want to help him and support him, but he want let me in, how can I help him over this and get my best friend back??

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  9. ” And the grief will come back again and again, like any big loss. ”
    My first loss was Aug 10th 1987.
    Struggle with infertility until 1998 when I finally gave up and thought I put “closure” on my grief.
    Now Aug 2012, at 49 and I am feeling a huge loss and emptiness as I watch my peers with their grandchildren. I never anticipated this would hurt as much. And fear 25 more years and dying alone with no family around me.

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  10. I never suggest adoption even as a childless by chance woman. Believe me I have a mother who use t work in human services and it isn't so cut and dry. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and for those grieving because of fertility it can create further emotional setbacks. The birth mother can change her mind about the adoption and a host of other things can go wrong. Not everyone will be qualified to adopt or foster.

    It is sad society can't see past marriage and parenthood. neither my brother and I have children so my mom and dad are in their 70's with no grandkids. Ihough they don't pressure us, I know it must be hard for my mother to see her other siblings have grandkids and great-grands(though not always the best situations). I count myself luckier than most couple who have to deal with the constant pressure of having children and then grandchildren. Plenty of people left their mark on the world never marrying and becoming parents or grandparents. I think childless by choice and single by society people are slowly helping re-adjust attitudes.

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  11. I hope we are entitled to grieve… I'm 36 years old and have been married for almost 10 years… when we first got married I told my husband I did not want children..and he did want children .. 3 girls he would say…for the 1st five years of marriage we were ok.. soon after marriage he said you are right no children is a good idea..I thought great that problem is solved. But then something changed in me… I suddenly found myself smiling at babies and melting when I say little baby clothes .. I thought omg I want to be a mom.. I told my husband and he just looked at me like I was nuts, probably thinking this will pass. well to make a really long story short.. a year ago after dropping many hints and straight out telling him I WANT A BABY.. I sat him down and said I really want a child and im getting older and its time.. he basically said ..I love you..I want to be with you..but I dont want kids. well.. I thought to myself I married him I love him i made a comitment to him.. I dont want to lose him. So here I'am 36 with no babies..and I feel sad. I'am entitled to grieve my babies that I will never have.. and I hope that with time the pain will be less.

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  12. I grieve the loss of ever having a real family more than the child itself. Besides my husband, the only family I have are my parents. As I get older, inevitably it will only be my husband, and maybe then eventually just me all alone if I'm unlucky enough to outlive him. I've tried in the past to create a “family” of sorts with friends but it just doesnt work. They all have their own things going on, and don't have the time to endulge me in being my surrogate family. It seems as people get older, family takes up a larger portion of their lives, and as I get deeper into my 30s and start to get too old to hang at bars with the 20 somethings, I feel like theres just no place for me in the world. It's hard enough knowing that I'll never get to experience holding my newborn baby in my arms but to think that as lonely as I am now its only going to get progressively worse…thats what really hurts.

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  13. Dear Anonymous Sept. 3, I'm sorry for your loss. It could indeed wind up being you alone. That's what happened to me. But, as my shrink often cautions, “It's too soon to tell.” So when you find yourself getting crazy about the future, recite that to yourself. It's too soon to tell.

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  14. I'm 46 and without children. My husband had two sons to a previous marriage and he didn't want anymore. I had always wanted children but chose the relationship. I'd always felt grief regarding the decison but now he's had his first Grandchild and it's become quite unbearable. I don't want to spoil what is ajoyful time for him and his family by being sad so I'm finding myself withdrawing in order to cope. He can't understand my grief at all.

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  15. It's really tough when your spouse has kids and then grandkids. If you can, try to get close to them and claim as much of a role in their lives as possible. This doesn't always work, but it can go a long way to ease the pain.

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  16. For the last 7 years I've been communicating with my partner that I want children one day. I'm now 33 and he is 30. Four months ago I asked if we could take a few months to consider what it would look like for us to start trying to get pregnant. Two days ago he said he doesn't see that he'll be ready any time soon and possibly he won't ever be ready. As in, he isn't sure he wants to have kids at all.

    I've never really considered not having children as an option and for two days I've been fighting tears every time I see a child, hear about families on the radio/TV or even think about not having children. Grief is the best way to describe how I'm feeling.

    Any advice?

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  17. I can't begin to imagine the grief that some of you must feel. I am lucky enough to have a child from a previous relationship but I have always wanted more. My partner and I are about to get married and have discussed having children, even choosing potential names and setting out times for when we would start trying. Then, a couple of weeks ago, he told me he doesn't want children. since then i've not been able to sleep properly and I feel like I am grieving for my unborn children. This should be the happiest time of my life, dress fittings, make-up trials etc. but I just keep coming back to everything I'm losing

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  18. This is going to sound strange…but I feel so sad because of the child I had planned with my partner but never had. We talked loads about having a baby after we'd gotten married. When we went shopping for my baby nephew, we'd talk excitedly about when we had OUR little baby one day. We had names picked out, I had dreams of this little boy. So did my partner. We talked about him a lot, and were so looking forward to being a family in the coming couple of years. Fast forward a year and my partner left me. We were supposed to be trying for our baby in the next 6 months. I think I'm always going to wonder what would have been. I'm pushing 35 now and I just don't DO love and relationships. I thought I'd found my soulmate and my happy ever after, I never even wanted kids before we met. Now, I feel so stupid for grieving for something that never even existed.

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  19. Why do you talk about adoption like its so easy??? It's not! I have secondary infertility and foolishly thought adoption was the answer. Unless we get a windfall of dollars the cost to adopt might as well be a million. The two children I have now prevent me from being able adopt the severely hurt children in foster care. Adoption is not the pat answer you make it. Beware!

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  20. Sue, I have 2 step-children and cannot conceive, much like the woman from oct 10th. Trying to “claim a role in their lives as much as you can” does not help with the grief of not having your own child. It is the opposite! We have 50/50 custody and every day I hear about their MOM. It is even harder to deal with not being able to conceive when you have to look at children your husband made with another woman. It doesn't matter what I do, their MOM is always #1 to them and they are a constant reminder of what I cannot have. The more I see them, the worse the grief. I love my husband dearly but it would be much easier to deal with if he was childless.

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  21. im 49 i have always wanted a big family. I got married 10 years ago for the first time (both of us) and talked about having 2 kids, names, etc. Well not long after our marriage she got sick and later on cancer. She past away in Feb of this year. I have never loved anyone more. i am grieving that we couldnt have kids. I the pain is there especially if i go back in my mind and think is there anything i could have done differently Now im at the age where I would have to marry someone a lot younger than my age. I just wish i could have had kids with her. its hard thinking back to what could have been. I mean like almost everyone else has kids why could we. Why did you have to take her? I trust God but that still doesn't make the pain any less. Now i wonder about who will take care of me as i get older. And since I'm alone again I guess ill have to learn to doing thing alone again… Heck I'm a loner as it is… Now how much more. anyway grieving over what maybe could a been.. silly i know but none the less it is what it is. rjw

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  22. It's not silly at all, Anonymous. I'm so sorry this happened to you and your wife. It's the kind of thing that doesn't seem fair at all. Now your challenge is to move into your new life without her. It may not be too late to bring children into your life in some way. I hope you can find some comfort. We are here for you.

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  23. I'm 27 my husbands 10 years older than me. We've been married now for 8 years an have had no luck with the child. And I have this horrible feeling its never going to happen. I don't have any friends anymore because they don't understand. And it hurts my heart so much to watch them have children. I feel like I can't be a part or participat in their life. I even get angry whenever someone announces a pregnancy. I don't know who or what I am anymore if I can't be a mother. I have nothing to look forward to.

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  24. I am 36. I have always wanted children..Today I found out, that I will never be able to conceive. I am grieving the loss of a child, I'll never have and it hurts like hell!!

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  25. I do not really belong here since I have two children already, but it is the only place I could find where people were grieving a child who was not to be. I love my children, I am grateful for them, I enjoy being with them, but I desperately want a third and in my mind that child was always supposed to have been. However my husband says no. People tell me to be grateful for what I have and I am, very… but still in my heart I will always grieve this child, who to me I have lost and not even because I cannot conceive. I put a years hard work into being able to fall pregnant safely again after a very difficult second pregnancy and yet after all that it is still no for reasons that have not been properly discussed and which I believe never will be – in the meantime I grieve for the baby, the child, the teenager and the adult who would have had two marvellous sisters.

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  26. I am reading all of these posts as I sit at work, trying to, again, hold back the tears. I had to come to accept the 4 miscarriages I had, which I have. Then we started the private adoption process and shortly after, I was laid off from work in 2012. This delayed the adoption process since we were running low on funds in order to keep our home. Now I am grateful to have found a job, however, I am making much less, given the economy. After realizing things are still tight, I thought, “how can we afford day care at over $1,000 a mo.??” So, we have made the painful decision to move on. Sometimes I feel more pain, even a little resentful because my husband has 2grown children. Everyone around me has children. It's not fair…..what made them better parents than me? Why do people who mistreat their children get blessed with them? It is like a death. I am going through all of the different parts of the grieving process, sadness, anger, empty. I don't know how to start to feel better.

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  27. Oh Anonymous, that's so sad. It shouldn't be so hard. Money shouldn't even be a factor, but I know it is. I don't know why people who don't seem to deserve it have children while others who would make great parents don't, but that's how it is. You have probably already read my more recent posts on beginning to heal. There are things there you can try. Counseling can help. Getting involved in something that take your mind off it also helps. I pray that you and your husband find peace.

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  28. Thank you for this haven. It made me feel a lot less alone. I begged for 4 years to my husband for us to have a baby. Finally he agreed to not stop it but,1.5 years later no baby, but lot of new nieces n nephews and sonograms! I've lost friendships because I d know how to handle seeing the new babies. I'm trying harder now though. But the pain, the tears esp with each period or announcement – it's torture!

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  29. I have sons, all grown up now, totally independent and, as sons so often do, totally finding their way in the world and gradually growing away. My partner of a dozen years wont have more children and i just feel that i was not ready to give up being a mother yet and, more importantly to me, that there's a little girl out there who's waiting for me to be her mummy. I can see her in my mind's eye, so vividly. I thought my partner would've changed his mind by now – he always said one day, but it's not the right time yet' – I've wasted so much time and now it's almost too late. The grief is as profound as any i've experienced so far in my life.

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  30. My husband and I dated for 5 years and we talked of having children. It was something I believed we both looked forward to. We married in 2000 and in 2002 I brought up the conversations we had while we dated about becoming parents and he asked me to wait – wait for him to change jobs so he wouldn’t feel stuck where he was at the time. So I thought I would go back to school, but he was afraid that if I started school then got pregnant we’d have a lot of debt (even though I worked too) plus he’d still be stuck at a job he didn’t like, and also the added stress of a new baby. I didn’t like it but I felt like I understood his logic so I agreed to put off school and wait longer to start our family. In 2006, after changing jobs twice, he finally told me that he would not have children. The world is just too messed up in his thinking, as well as some other reasons I won’t go into here. We were 24 & 27 when we married. I’ll be turning 40 in just a couple of months, and he is now 43. In 2012 I did go back to school and successfully completed the courses I had wanted to pursue for all the years I had waited. But, it didn’t fulfill me the way I had hoped it would so I’m not even using the skills I learned.

    I’ve had ‘feminine health issues’ and been told that trying to conceive might be hard, but we’ve never even tried. I’ve wondered if trying and failing to conceive would have made this any easier. We are not parents because he made a choice without me, but one that impacted the life I expected we would have together. There has not been a single day go by when I haven’t ached over the children we’ll never get to be parents to. Some days I can distract myself with something else (usually my job) and move past the ache, but other days the grief still just buries me. My husband has even told me that he would understand if I left him to find someone else to have a child with, but that just compounds the grief for me. It’s not just about having a child. I wanted him to be the father of my children – to see him when I looked at them. Would they have had his eyes or nose or hair? I wanted to watch them grow and see how both he and I would show up in our child – would they they think and process things like me, or have his aptitude for fixing things or playing musical instruments? Is my husband selfish for saying no and am I selfish because I still want a child? Is my heart’s desire better or higher or more important than his fears? Is one of us right and the other wrong? I don’t know how to answer these questions and so they never get resolved. The hurt never goes away. The grief is constant. The wanting never stops. For me, not being able to experience parenthood has defined me and I feel stuck in life. Sure, my husband and I can go places on a whim and enjoy things that couples with children probably wouldn’t do, but these really are not adequate replacements for me. We do talk about this issue from time to time, but his mind has not changed and I feel like sharing my feelings about it it is just throwing it back in his face. I realized awhile back that he feels pain about it too, because there were hopes and dreams he had as well that will never be realized by the choice he has made.

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    • NM, I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing this. It helps others in similar situations to know they are not alone. What’s really frustrating to me is that if you had gone ahead and had a child back when you first started talking about it, that kid would be a teenager by now and more independent every day. I hope you can find peace with this.

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      • Thank you. I just found your blog tonight for the first time because my grief blindsided me this evening. I was having a pretty good day then saw something on TV and out of nowhere BAM! I was looking online for anything that would let me know this will someday pass, that I will eventually ‘get over it’. I spent a long time reading your posts and the many precious yet painful responses. I had no idea this was such a widespread issue for so many, women and men alike. It’s rather frightening to see from the comments here that this grief will more than likely always be with me. However, I admire your bravery in this blog to constantly face your own pain by encouraging and comforting all who read and/or comment. Thank you for this place.

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