We often talk here about couples in which one partner is not willing to have children. Sometimes they discuss it before they get married. Other times it comes as a rude surprise to the partner who wants kids. But what about situations where one partner, for whatever reason, physically cannot make babies? What if you knew that going in? Would you sacrifice children for love?
I’ve been doing a little reading about marriages in which a partner is infertile. Many of the listings that come up are religious discussions. As you might expect, the Catholics dominate. The main thought is that for a marriage to be valid, the couple must have a sexual union. That means if a partner is impotent, i.e., can’t have sex, and they know it before the wedding, they can’t have a valid marriage. If it happens later, that’s okay. But if the couple is infertile, that does not invalidate the marriage. If their sexual union does not result in children, they’re still married.
Some folks are using the same arguments in their debate about gay marriage. After all, a same-sex couple cannot procreate without outside help. But they do have a sexual union. I’m not going to get into whether or not gay marriage is a good thing. I think if people love each other, they should be allowed to be together. Period. But it does underscore the question I am asking today: Would you marry someone who is unable to provide the necessary sperm or egg to conceive a child? Or is that a deal breaker?
In my case, I knew Fred had had a vasectomy, and I knew it had taken 16 years for him and his first wife to get pregnant. But in my usual unrealistic way, I figured we could overcome all that and pop out some babies while I was still in my fertile 30s. What if I had known that there was absolutely no chance? What if instead of saying he didn’t want more children, he’d said, “I can’t.” Would I have married him? I honestly don’t know. I think I would have. I really loved him and didn’t have other prospects. But I’d have been forced to consciously choose a life without the children I always thought I’d have. (Yes, we could have had the adoption talk and I would have learned that no, he didn’t want to do that, so the result would have been the same, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
What if I were the one with the fertility problem? Would I expect a man to give up children for me? Would I be constantly afraid that no man would have me if I couldn’t give him sons and daughters? How and when would I tell the guys I dated? Would I feel guilty about depriving them of kids?
When couples disagree, that’s hard, but infertility is a whole other thing, full of sadness. It’s not a rare thing either. The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site lists statistics for infertility. The percentage of women ages 15-44 with “impaired fecundity” is 10.9 percent or 6.7 million. Stop and think about that. One in 10. On the male side in the same age group, 13.9 percent were surgically sterile (usually vasectomy), 4.2 percent sterile for other reasons and another 5.2 percent considered subfertile, meaning conception was possible but not likely. That’s a lot of guys, nearly a quarter of them.
So how do you feel about that? Would you marry someone you knew was infertile? I would love to hear what you think about this.