Religion and childlessness–is there a connection?

I don’t usually get into religion here. Everyone has different beliefs, and I don’t want to offend anyone. In my interviews with childless women, most insisted that religion played absolutely no role in their decisions about having children. This surprised me. But I didn’t consult God in the matter either.

I’m Catholic. Catholics have a reputation for reproducing, but I didn’t know until I started researching my book that using birth control was a sin and that abortion was grounds for excommunication. I had no idea. My formal religious education ended at age 13, when the nuns probably assumed we were too young to even think about sex. In my case, they were right. So they never talked about it. My mother’s entire advice about sex was “don’t.” I didn’t until I met the man who became my first husband.

I had fallen away from the church by the time I started dating Jim. When he escorted me to the student health center for birth control pills, I didn’t think, “Oh no, this is a sin.” I took the pills. Later, I switched to a diaphagm, and later still, after a divorce and several boyfriends with benefits, I married a man who had had a vasectomy. Sin, sin, sin. But I didn’t think of it that way. I was just trying not to get pregnant when conditions were wrong and then wishing I could get pregnant when conditions were right. A strict Catholic would say I was trying to manage a part of life that is supposed to be up to God. Furthermore, they would say that my lack of children now is my punishment for being a big old sinner.

I believe in a kinder God who believes we screw up and forgives us. He may even have planned for me to be childless so that I could do other things. Still, when I’m around my Catholic friends, I don’t say much about how I came to be childless. I just look sad and change the subject.

How about you? Does religion have anything to do with your thinking about whether or not to have children? In what way?

I welcome your comments. Please be kind to one another. I know religion is a dangerous topic. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and I want this blog to remain a safe place for all of us.


19 thoughts on “Religion and childlessness–is there a connection?

  1. Yes it did. We decided not to do IVF because of our belief that life begins at conception. It is possible to do IVF where only one or two embryos are created and implanted at a time but it was too expensive for us to pursue.


  2. i was raised catholic too…and also was just trying to not get pregnant at the wrong time …and pregnant at the right time….but as you said i didnt know it was a sin….looking back i did sort of control the future, my first husband wanted kids with me…when he decided i was
    waiting for the perfect time he met someone with a child and he had affair…we divorced and i married my husband who was like your husband divorced and said he wanted childern but his kids came first..and he made decisions that caused too much financial hardship and (he gave too much for his kids in child support while i worked two jobs) . we couldnt afford or have time to have childern and time went by…without him realizing it and now i am 45.he says now we could adopt..and i remember a time he said do you have to go thru that whole “birth” thing clearly not a special experience for him as i wished i could create for us..i told him the “time has passed” i am 45 where has he been?…i spent many days crying in the bathroom to god why is this happening…on bad days i would think i was being punished because i didnt just have childern with my first husband and now i just must suffer…i longed for my present husband to want kids with me and choose this as a priority…he never did…i feel overlooked and not cherished …and being a stepmom makes me a threat to even though i would have been a great mom …i am the spare wheel for whenever my husband puts me in to be that role. otherwise he defers to his ex and i am left alone to grieve…and not feel accepted…i have prayed and do not get comfort…i believe god loves me …but maybe i did do something wrong and this is my punishment…


  3. Anonymous Sept. 25, Ouch. I am so sorry for your pain. I don't think is your punishment. I truly believe God understands that we screw up and forgives us. Of course I want to give your husband a good swift kick in the nuts, but that wouldn't do any good. Now I guess it's time to figure out how to make the best of the way things are.


  4. When people ask me why I don't have children I just say “God said no.” And I believe that. It wasn't in God's plans for me to have a child or it would of happened. My husband used withdrawl but I knew that was not full proof and wished it would of just happened. It was God's choice in the matter as well.


  5. I am not religious, and went through several rounds of IVF. None of them worked, but I feel that at least we tried. In the course of going through that, I did a tremendous amount of reading about it and found that Israel has put a lot of investment into IVF research. They are interested in helping families to have babies. More babies = more Jewish people. A good thing. In general, I think many different religions encourage their members to procreate in the interest of keeping their religion alive, and in some cases, dominant. With infertility affecting as many as 1 in 8 couples, it seems it is in the church's (temple's, whatever it is) best interests to support reproductive assistance wherever possible.


  6. Good points, Anonymous. I'm glad somebody is helping people have babies. The official Catholic view opposes IVF, but the church is also dead set against birth control, so maybe it balances out.
    Having more children is no guarantee that they will grow up and become active participants in the church–or temple, but it helps.


  7. Good points, Anonymous. I'm glad somebody is helping people have babies. The official Catholic view opposes IVF, but the church is also dead set against birth control, so maybe it balances out.
    Having more children is no guarantee that they will grow up and become active participants in the church–or temple, but it helps.


  8. Thank you Sue..for responding to my post…again I am also catholic…
    Where do we go from here is a hard question…I struggle to stay married at times doesnt everyone? but know divorce is not the solution..
    It wasn't the first time i was married either . Although I get upset and angry I love my husband ..just angry at the way he handled it..
    .how do we deal with how things as they
    are? and find purpose? This is hard to do if you have regret…any suggestions …if religion effects our childlessness can it heal regret? Don't mean to ask more questions and send you on a tangent but I am struggling…thanks..jean


  9. Jean,
    Prayer and faith can certainly help with the regret. We have to accept that God knows a lot more than we do. Not having children is a huge loss, but there are other ways we can use our energy, including loving other people's children, pursuing a career or hobby or anything we're passionate about, and trying to enjoy the little pleasures of every day. I know you're struggling, but we need to live the life we have and not waste it stressing over the life we don't have. I wish you all the best.


  10. God has a purpose for the earth not a plan for each individual. The difference being Plan is rigid where as purpose can endure a detour and still arrive on target. That is what the Bible teaches, but not most of the mainstream churches.
    It was not God's purpose for humans to grow old get sick and die. But after a slight detour that will be corrected soon enough. That is indeed what everyone is Praying for when they say the “lord's prayer” or “our father” prayer. Thy kingdom Come Thy Will be done ON EARTH just as it is in HEAVEN.
    I know that when God's Kingdom corrects the health problems and restores earth to his original purpose, paradise – then all our desires will be fulfilled, and I will have kids then.


  11. I want to be able to live the life I have, childless not by choice and pushing 70, and concentrate on my interests and volunteer activities. It is, however, difficult when I'm, as usual, earlobe deep in other women my age going on (and on) about their children/grandchildren aka ” blessings from God” etc. I need to somehow have the 1st part of The Serenity Prayer running continuously in my brain. *sigh*


  12. I'm Catholic and have used birth control at various times in life with no qualms. The last several years we've used the “pull and pray” method, knowing that if we get pregnant it will be okay. Of course lately there hasn't been much of anything going on.

    My issues are marital – not medical and I lean heavily on my faith. On good days I believe that when/if the time is right God will help me be a mother.

    Sometimes I feel like a mother already – to my husband who seems to be lacking in some of the teachings that he should have learned as a child. After two roller coaster years I find I love him unconditionally, much like a mother loves her child. We're on the path to healing and sometimes it feels like we'll never get there but I (try) to remind myself that as long as we are working, God will make it happen.

    All that being said, it's sometimes hard to attend mass with the large families surrounding me. Many things in my town are “family” events which feel akward to us. It's also hard to see my husbands baby brother and his wife have their third child and we're no where close to #1.

    In a culture (meaning my hometown culture) that prides itself on family I sometimes feel like I'm cheating their system. For instance, many people have troubled marriages and yet they continue to have children and make the best of things. Me – I don't have children and I have the luxury of dealing with my marriage issues without the stress of school lunches, bath time, attending soccer games, and whatever other thing all mothers deal with. Then again maybe these people with offspring are happy to have the task of children to distract them from their marriage. Who knows?

    All I know is that the stereotype of “catholic guilt” lies within me. And I'm trying hard to shake it.


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  14. mh… a bit the other way round: I'm not religious anymore but when i was in my late teens and early twenties I participated in some evangelical youth groups and churches. Of course there the main dogma was no sex before marriage. I really do believe that because of that I have missed out on developing my sexuality through experience during the crucial years for that step in personal development. I don't know but sometimes think that it also has an indirect but hidden influence on my ability to 1) find a partner in the first place (not fun to be dating someone at age 26 and still being a virgin) and 2) make the right decisions about my partner/relationship.


  15. I just can't go to church right now. The happy families make me feel left out. There are no couples classes for the childfree variety, that I've found. I was involved in choir and that helps, but I found myself crying through the services and being on display in the choir loft doesn't help! Ten years after stopping infertility treatments, I keep waiting for it to stop hurting. Church makes it hurt.


  16. teacher,
    I wish every church leader could read your comment and make some space for those of us who don't have children. We do feel left out, and all those people with “families” just don't understand. I hope you can find some peace soon.


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