What’s the big deal about childlessness?


What is it that makes people feel bad about not having children? That’s what the young man interviewing me over the phone yesterday wanted to know. I struggled to find an answer that he would understand. It became very clear that men and women have different ideas about this stuff, especially when they come from different generations. His questions showed he really didn’t get it.
Is it that everybody else is doing it? Are we looking for a sense of accomplishment? Do we want to leave something behind? Does it help to be around other people’s children?
Well, I could answer that last one. No. When you are hurting over your own lack of children, it does not help to be surrounded by everybody else’s. It just makes you more aware of what you’re missing. I don’t think he understood that either.
I tried to explain that it’s all of the above and more, that we’re missing a major life experience, that we have no younger generation to replace the old ones who are dying, that we have no one to inherit our keepsakes, and that for some people children are their only legacy, but none of that was really getting to the heart of it.
Why does it hurt so bad to realize we may never have children? Is it a deep-down physical need to reproduce? After all, every living thing on earth is designed to reproduce. Some can’t for various physical reasons, but reproduction is the plan. Humans are the only ones who can say, “No, we’d rather not,” the only ones who mate and don’t procreate. So maybe it’s just a basic biological need. But then why don’t some people feel that need?
Almost a quarter of women are not having children these days, and a lot of them don’t feel bad about it. They choose to be childless, preferring the unfettered life. Why do the rest of us grieve the loss of the children we might have had?
The young man segued into a discussion of social media and wouldn’t I like my blogs to be reposted in perpetuity if some company offered that service. No, I don’t think so, and was he actually scamming me to sell a product? I don’t know. But his questions about childlessness linger. What’s the big deal? Why do we feel so bad?
What do you think? Help me find answers? Why do you feel bad about not having children? Please share in the comments.
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14 thoughts on “What’s the big deal about childlessness?

  1. I switched to the web version. Let's see if the comment takes from the web version.

    To answer the question I said I feel badly bc I am sad. I'm sad because I want to have my own children…little mini me's I guess. Desire to procreate. Desire to leave a genetic legacy. Grandkids for my mom and dad to brag about. I want to start a sentence with “yea, my daughter….” Or “really, my son….”

    Change the word from “having” to “wanting” & then I'm stumped.

    Well based on what little I've read the people who do not *want* children don't feel badly about that decision at all.

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  2. I believe that unintentionally I have developed a defense mechanism that has made me believe that I don't want to have children… I always believed that I would have a least a hand full of children… I love large families… As a full community can be developed with siblings… But after the first mention of probability of not being able to get pregnant easily… The idea of several children changed… I don't like feeling sorry for me as it has been a slow and lonely mourning period… To the point to have became convinced I don't want children

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  3. I think because we are made to reproduce maybe i don't feel good enough or else it would have happened? I felt because I didnt have children I was forced to have another identity so I “existed” and had purpose. It can become something to hide behind to help with the pain thru the process. . I think we all have things we grieve, It is part of being human. grief is not mean to be done in isolation. In the case of not having children it is isolating and ambitious.m I think that is why it is so hard to go thru. the worst part of childless by marriage is I only have me to blame.(or this is what I tell myself when I am. It feeling well) Anyone who have been thru grieve and feels to blame struggles Imagine if you were blamed for the natural death of a parent ? try that on emotionally and see how you feel. Usually people are compassionate about those situations. Infertility or childlessness seems too painful for most people to look at let alone understand.

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  4. I have one child via IVF and we pushed that to the limit after being childless for many years. I sometimes read this blog and can identify with the childless.
    I've wondered if some of my pain was jealousy that 'other people can have children but I can't'. And I think that's natural. If every person in the world was unable to have any more children, then would your childlessness be as bad? No, because it would be common to everyone.

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  5. Being childless is a reminder of my 'failure' as a person. It is a reminder of all that I have failed at that has led me to this point.

    I have no husband and no children. This is probably because I have bipolar disorder. Also, because of poor life choices, but most likely stems from having bipolar disorder.

    If I had some sort of 'legitimate' reason for not having children, like infertility, or a spouse that didn't want children, perhaps I would at least have some compassion. But I have this deep dark problem, that I can't reveal to the casual aquantance who asks me 'why I don't have children?' If I told the truth, I would be ostracized, avoided, or worse. I once told someone the real reason and the response was 'well, good, people like you shouldn't have children.'

    In reality, plenty of people with bipolar disorder have children. Often they have children before being diagnosed, so it never crossed their minds to hesitate on the decision.

    If I had a really really good husband, willing to step up to the plate and do extra housework, parenting, etc. when I am in a “bipolar depression” then it would be reasonable to have a child. But, it's not like a guy like that actually exists. And if he did, why would he marry me when he would be able to have his pick of women… those prettier, younger, and healthier? The kind of man I would want to marry would be able to marry anyone, so he would never choose me. Believe me, my bipolar disorder is such a dealbreaker, my past boyfriends have married other women (even though they claimed to love me) becuase they couldn't/wouldn't want to deal with me.

    So, being childless is not only about sorrow of not having a child, it is a reminder of my being rejected from the entire concept of love, marriage and family.

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  6. Oh Anonymous, my heart hurts for you. I know everything you're saying is true, and I have heard sad stories from people with bipolar parents, but I hope you won't give up. You are worthy of love, bipolar or not.

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  7. Thank you for your comment. Though it stings a little. While plenty may say I am deserving of love, few would say I am deserving of a child, and your subtext regarding 'sad stories from people with bipolar parents' is further indication of bias against those with my disability from having children. There may be thiefs, cheaters, alcoholics, narcissists, and plenty of others with children that society still accepts as 'deserving' of children, but those born with bipolar disorder are somehow still largely considered unfit. While I agree, most folks with bipolar disorder may not be the best parents, they may still be better than most.

    Again, my childlessness is a grief I have to do alone. Most people simply believe that my grief is invalid, since I wouldn't be a suitable parent anyway. But, that logic still does not make the grief go away.

    I may be one of the 1% of people with bipolar disorder who would still make a good parent. I still don't think I should do it without a husband. That isn't unusual as most women want to do it alone even not having a mental illness?

    Thanks for your comment. While cognitively I can see your logic, the subtext still stings. It is to be expected though. I'm used to it.

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  8. Thank you for your comment regarding childless with bipolar disorder. While I know your comment was in good faith, it seems to have fallen into the same 'indelicate' category that befalls childless people when others try to be comforting.

    In my current sensitive state, I interpret your comment to mean that while I am deserving of 'love' I am not deserving of 'children.' And your comment regarding 'sad stories from people with bipolar parents' gives the implicit subtext that my children would expressly live sad lives.

    I know you had good faith in your comment, and thank you. There probably is no perfect response as when one is 'childless and grieving', as I am, we are overly sensitive.

    In my subgroup of the childless, I feel even more scorned. I once met a barren woman and we discussed our childlessness. She seemed to be angered at me because she stated she was more justified in her grief because she would have at least been a good parent. It was heartbreaking.

    Honestly, I think I would be a pretty good parent. What I would really need is the second income of a husband to make it all possible. We would need his steady paycheck to maintain stability and spare income for a maid during my times I am 'out of commission.' When I am functional, I can earn a six figure salary and am a good home maker. I managed to be a caregiver solo to my sister through her Lyme disease and to my mother through her cancer. So, I can 'pull it off' and be there and caring and present.

    What would really be necessary is a second income from a husband so the kids wouldn't have to move if I lost my job and took awhile to get another one. And, a husband so if I did ever really really get sick, my husband could have the children rather than them having to go into foster care, etc.

    Society has impressed upon me that I would be a bad parent because of my bipolar disorder. And with enough of this negative reinforcement, it has become ingrained in me.

    Thank you again for your comment. It was in good faith and I appreciate it. I just wanted to expatiate on it, so others could have some understanding of what it feels like to be childless with bipolar and the well meaning but 'insensitive-feeling' comments that some can make. I do see your perspective and thank you for your comment.

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  9. Thanks sue. I know you were well meaning and I thank you for your response and for your posts and blog. Much appreciated.

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