Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

Bialosky, Jill. Poetry Will Save Your Life. New York: Atria Books, 2017.

I just finished this book, and it made me think about some things I want to share here. Jill Bialosky takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem.

If poetry is not your thing, don’t worry. That’s not my point today. Although the book covers a lifetime of other topics, Bialosky includes a chapter on motherhood that sparked two ideas I want to talk about here.

1) Bialosky offers Irish poet Eavan Boland’s poem “The Pomegranate” and quotes Boland as saying that motherhood changed her whole perspective as a poet. “I no longer felt I was observing nature in some Romantic-poet way. I felt I was right at the center of it: a participant in the whole world of change and renewal.”

To be honest, I barely understand the poem, but I do understand the point Boland made about motherhood and finding our place in what one of my college professors called “the great chain of being.” Being a child and then having a child secures our place in that chain, but if we don’t have children, where do we fit? A lot of people who choose to be childfree poo-poo the whole “becoming a parent changed my life” conversation, but I disagree. How could creating a new human being in your body not change everything?

What do you think?

2) Bialosky’s own story of motherhood was not all joy and poetry. Her first daughter and son were both born prematurely and died shortly after birth. This section of her book is heartbreaking. Imagine feeling a baby grow inside month after month. Imagine talking to it, planning for it, dreaming of all that child will become, and then watching it die shortly after it leaves the womb. Awful. After the first baby dies, Bialosky is constantly afraid she will lose the second one as well. And then she does. She and her husband use a surrogate for their third child. He is born on time and healthy. But they are so afraid, they don’t buy anything or prepare a nursery for fear they will lose this baby, too. It takes them a long time to believe they might get to keep this one.

After her babies die and before her son is born, Bialosky feels the loss of her children constantly. Perhaps you can identify with this quote: “For years, I burn with envy every time I see a newborn child. It is impossible to be around friends with young children without inhabiting the spaces where my own losses and desires lay. . . . It’s like being hungry all the time and never invited to the feast.”

I know some of you have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, and these words hurt. I can’t imagine going through that. I think it might be easier to have never been pregnant at all than to lose one’s babies during pregnancy or at birth. Perhaps I am lucky that, having never had a child, I will never suffer the grief of losing a child.

It goes back to that famous quote, “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” Does the same thing apply to having children?

What do you think? Have I just ripped off all the scabs and left you bleeding? I’m so sorry, but it’s an important question. Is the desire for children worth the pain of possible loss? Most pregnancies in the developed world turn out fine, but there’s always that chance.

Tell me what you think. And if you like poetry, check out this book.

11 thoughts on “Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

  1. Serious question to ponder. I am newly 35 and deciding if I want to have children before I turn 40. I am half yes but half no about it. And the half no part is because of the scary ‘what ifs’ that can happen if I got pregnant then maybe miscarried or have a baby born stillborn or dies via SIDS after birth. Hypothetically, if any of those happened if I were pregnant – I probably would wish I never got pregnant to begin with. I could not fathom having a child die via any of those ways. It would destroy me. So I think think it’s definitely worse to lose a child than to never have one – because if you have one and they die you will miss them – if you never have one – you can’t miss what you never had.

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  2. I am childless because my husband doesn’t want children. I talk with my mom-in-law frequently and she has told me that my husband has a brother whom she miscarried. We are Christian. I think she will meet that child in heaven and I also think it will be great to meet him there because I can only imagine that the person who is my husband’s brother must also be an awesome person. I sometimes think, if only I at least had a miscarriage, I might have a child that I could meet in heaven and find out the person that they are and what they are like. I don’t mean to minimize the pain of miscarrying. For sure if I thought that this life were all that is, I would rather have no children than miscarry.

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  3. The pain of losing a child must be horrendous but I’m not sure any alternative is a better alternative. I will go my whole entire life without that one life-changing nervous ecstatic moment of reading pregnant on a test and never ever ever having that opportunity to greet and kiss my own newborn flesh. Being a parent is hard, but not ever even getting taste of that joy sucks. The first time iIever got a scan was after my hysterectomy to check for any complications….. oh my, a moment I’d waited my whole life for…. no baby, no womb, just an empty black hole void…


  4. I had two ectopic pregnancies. They were devastating, and changed who I am. But so did not having children, even though for a considerable portion of my adult life I didn’t want them. It’s impossible to compare, I think.


  5. I had a miscarriage last summer from an accidental pregnancy. It has changed everything. My marriage is difficult, as now I feel more strongly that I want a child and my husband doesn’t. I don’t know if we are going to make it. I’m 36, and my clock ticks louder all the time. I feel like we are on the slow march to ending.

    I don’t know if I would say it is better to have lost. It brought out a lot of bad reactions from my husband that I still can’t forgive, but if we were eventually going to end over this, I guess it is better sooner than too late for me.


  6. I have thought about this question a lot and finally decided it is unanswerable. It isn’t fair to say that one is worse than the other. I live every day with an ache in my heart. Even when I am happy and things are going well and I can hang out with families and kids and not go down that dark spiral, it is still a fragile state that is resting on a sadness that I know is mine forever. To know that I was never changed forever by the creation and responsibility of another small human being feels like the loss of a really big and important life experience and evolution. To think of the children I dreamed of as a young teen and wanted with a physical ache during the years of trying and cried out to when they didn’t come…. I cannot imagine of a pain worse than this. But I never got pregnant and never had the experience of a real concrete baby that I lost (except for a few embryos that never implanted in me). Just the pain of the one that never came. I can’t compare it to losing someone concrete. For me it’s like grieving for a ghost that is still a piece of my heart. One that I have no memories with and no joyful moments to feel the loss of. Just the emptiness of a life lived without knowing….


    • Me too. And I just had two miscarriages again this last year, and yesterday I was asked by a nurse if I am still menstruating. I am not ready for that life change too. I feel like my life is not complete somehow. I feel that I am not complete. Not real, like other women. It is the strangest thing. And yet, if I could have had a large family, I would have. Life just happened that way. So painful and your words are so spot on.


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