Sometimes childless grief is too much to handle alone

This morning I received an email from a reader who wanted me to tell her how to go on when she’s grieving so hard over not being able to have children that she feels unable to do anything but weep. She’s not the only one. I often receive emails and comments at this blog from people who are truly suffering. All they can think about is the babies they’ll never have. They feel as if they have somehow failed in life, that they don’t know what to do if they can’t be mothers, that they have failed their partners, that the whole world is having babies and they’re alone in this. Some are dealing with physical problems that prevent them from having children. Some have had hysterectomies that make motherhood impossible. Some don’t know why they can’t conceive, but it’s not happening and they’re out of time. Some have tried IVF and failed; others just can’t afford it. Sometimes their partners can’t or won’t give them children. They long to be pregnant, to give birth, to hold their baby in their arms, but it isn’t going to happen, and they JUST CAN’T STAND IT.

Does any of this sound familiar? (You childfree readers who never wanted babies, hold on, be patient, the grief of people who truly want babies and can’t have them is real.)

When I get these messages, I feel so bad. I want to help, but I’m not a therapist or a doctor. I’m just a writer who missed my own chance to have children. Sometimes I still feel terrible about it. Last night I dreamed about my youngest stepson. He was so handsome, and in my dream I wanted so bad to have a connection, but as in real life, it wasn’t there. I have not seen him since his father’s funeral, almost two years ago. It has been longer than that since I saw his older brother and almost as long since I saw their sister. Writing about them in my Childless by Marriage book did not help things, and now my husband is not around to make the connection between me and his kids. I feel as if it’s too late for us. That makes me sad. And when I think about the children I might have given birth to, it’s hard to even breathe.

But I go on, and one of the reasons I can go on is that I got help. I went into therapy with a woman who gave me the tools to deal with my feelings. She let me cry, let me say everything that needed saying, gave me coping mechanisms so I could move on, accept my life as it is and make it better. I also took antidepressants for a few years, and they helped.

There is no shame in seeking therapy if you feel like you just can’t cope. It does not mean you are crazy. It just means you need a little help. Having an impartial person listen to you and let you say whatever you need to say without correcting or giving you advice–“oh, just adopt a child, be a foster parent, be glad you don’t have to deal with a bratty kid, etc.”–helps more than you can imagine. If you had a broken foot, you would seek help immediately, but people tend to think they can heal broken hearts on their own.

Where do you start? Ask for a referral from your doctor, look in the phone book, or search online. In the U.S., you can find listings for your area at I’m sure you can find similar organizations in the UK and other countries. There are various kinds of therapy. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication. Psychologists use non-drug methods. My own therapist uses a combination of medication, hypnosis, talk, biofeedback, art, and whatever else it takes. If the first therapist doesn’t work for you, it’s perfectly all right to find a different one.

I know it’s hard to make that initial phone call, but if the grief feels unbearable, do it. Childlessness is tough, but with help, you can survive and thrive.

8 thoughts on “Sometimes childless grief is too much to handle alone

  1. Amen! Totally agree that therapy is one key to healing. After a year of praying for my pain to end, I was led to a good psychologist and spent several months working through my grief.

    Why did it take me so long to seek therapy? I had a limited budget and was afraid to get locked into YEARS of expensive therapy. When I finally found someone I was comfortable with, I made a pact with myself that I would end the therapy when I felt better. Simple as that!

    After six months of intensive work, I felt better. I thanked my therapist and said goodbye. He pointed to a psych evaluation that I had to take in the beginning and said there were several other areas “of concern” that we could work on. I laughed and said I was happy to have a few flaws. Goodness knows, the people around me are wack jobs and they don't care about their quirks.

    I think the therapist wanted to see if I was strong enough to end therapy. He wished me well and said the door was open if I wanted to come back at any time.


  2. Dorothy, Thanks for this comment. It's difficult to make that call, to take that first step. But it can help a lot. One thing I didn't address earlier is that most people can find affordable ways to get help. The first time I sought counseling, way back in the '80s, I called the county mental health department. Based on my financial status at that time, they treated me for FREE. My more recent stints of therapy were covered by my health insurance. There IS a way to get help.


    The Power of Radical Acceptance:
    Healing Trauma though the Integration of Buddhist Meditation and Psychotherapy
    ” Unprocessed pain keeps our system of self-preservation on permanent alert. In addition to sudden intrusive memories, a wide range of situations, many non-threatening, may activate the alarmingly high levels of pain and fear stored in our body. “
    Just posting FYI for whatever it may or may not be worth to anyone.


  4. I lost my father when I was 23. That was a huge blow. Seeing my mother's grief broke my heart. Later on I faced joblessness and was unable to marry early. But nothing prepared me to face childlessness. This is the worst thing ever. Every month is painful. In this journey of childlessness, I have lost my hobbies, my job, my socializing. I don't see light at the end of this journey..


  5. Anonymous, I'm so sorry for your losses. Childlessness is a hurt that keeps coming back. But please don't miss the rest of life while you grieve the one part. Get help if you can't find your way by yourself. You are not alone.


  6. I am going through the worst pain of my life. On second day of my marriage, my husband told me that he already has two kids so he would not want kids from me. It was very shocking. He just announced his decision and never thought what I wanted. Today, after four years of marriage, I keep fighting for kids, but he just turns a deaf ear. I have started having menopause and he never ever discusses anything about my pain of being infertile. Many times I talk about adoption,but he doesn’t even want to do anything about it.
    I loved him, but I hate him for this. I am really not a risk taker and because of insecurities that life offers, I continue to live with him. But it is really difficult to forgive him for all this.


    • Oh, man, he told you on the second day of your marriage? That’s awful. I am so sorry this has happened to you. I don’t know what to advise you at this point as menopause begins, but my heart goes out to you.


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