Who can you talk to about being childless?

Worry about whether or not you will ever have children is eating you alive. Your spouse/partner refuses to talk about it or gets angry when you mention it. I suppose that’s why so readers seek refuge here. You say: Finally, someone I can talk to. I can’t say these things to anyone else.

I’m glad to provide a place where you can say whatever you need to say and get responses from people who understand, but are you sure there’s no one else in your life whom you can talk to about being childless by marriage?

Looking back on my own life, I didn’t share my concerns. I didn’t want to worry my parents. I didn’t have a sister. While I was married to my first husband, my brother was working full-time and going to law school; kids weren’t on his agenda yet. And my second husband, Fred, was my brother’s friend long before I met him.

I didn’t have the kind of intimate friends I could share this with. In my 20s, I wasn’t that worried about it. There was so much time ahead of us. We were all busy with college and careers.

When I was married to Fred and the prospect of never having children was becoming a certainty, who did I talk to? Not my parents. Not my new sister-in-law, who didn’t understand. Not my brother, who had two children now. I didn’t discuss it with my friends. I could have. Some of them didn’t have children either, but I didn’t share my pain with them. I gave them terse comments: we can’t, I can’t, I have three stepchildren, I hate Mother’s Day . . . I didn’t let them into my grief and worry or my desire to hold a baby and watch it grow into a person.

I have been in counseling off and on throughout my life for depression and anxiety. But honestly none of my therapists have understood what it’s like. They blew off my concerns with easy answers: enjoy other people’s kids, embrace your stepchildren, find other outlets for your energy.

Talk to a priest? Priests are programmed to promote parenthood. Anything less is a sin.

Of course, the person we most need to talk with about this, our partner, is often the most difficult. You tiptoe into the subject, trying not to make him/her angry, trying not to put a kink in your relationship. Nagging doesn’t help (I really, really, really want to have a baby). Neither does silent anger or crying in the bathroom (What’s wrong? Nothing!)

I think we’re embarrassed sometimes to admit that we have this problem with our relationship. We’re afraid of glib answers and misunderstandings. We’re afraid our friends and family will start to hate the person we love. They might urge us to leave him or her. They might start to treat our partner badly. Or they might take his/her side when there shouldn’t be sides, just everyone loving and trying to work things out.

I have a best friend now with whom I can discuss my childlessness, even though she’s a mother and grandmother. She knows how touchy I am about babies, knows I wish I had a family like she does. She has her own family issues, which we discuss freely. But where was she when I was in the thick of it?

I look back now at friends I used to have. I could have talked to them. I should have talked to them. This is an awfully big burden to carry alone, especially if you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking about leaving the relationship because you don’t want to live a life without children.

I have said way more about me than I intended to. What about you? Who in your life can you be totally honest with and talk about your no-baby situation? Do your parents or siblings know how you feel? Is there a friend, an aunt, or a co-worker with whom you can talk it out?

I was just thinking about soap operas. I haven’t watched them for a long time, but it seems the characters have all the heavy conversations that we never have in real life. Sipping wine, their hair perfectly coiffed, they let it all out, weep big TV tears, and hug as the scene fades to a commercial.

Can we do that? What do you think? Is there someone you can talk to, someone you can trust to not blab your secrets or stomp all over your feelings? It’s so important to let it out. The dog is good, but she’s spayed, and she doesn’t speak English.

Let’s talk about talking about it. I welcome your comments.

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Next week’s post will be number 700! I’m thinking we should have a party. Details to follow.

19 thoughts on “Who can you talk to about being childless?

  1. I talk to almost no one about my childlessness. My sisters-in-law all know that a big reason that we didn’t have children early on was because of the obvious problems with alcohol. People were polite and didn’t ask. I had a few close SILs with whom I confided, but one became oblivious to my situation after she had children (and was actually very thoughtless towards me from that point on). Another pitied me, which wasn’t what I wanted. Now none of them are close enough to me to confide in.

    My brother once asked me what the deal was, and I was honest. “Marriage isn’t strong enough, not sure it will ever happen.” He nodded and said, “Well, Mom was worried, but she didn’t want to ask and risk making you cry.” Ha! If she only knew how strong I was and, at the same time, knew how badly I needed her during those years.

    She recently offered me an old chest of drawers. She opened the bottom drawer and said, “I have your old baby blanket and shoes. Since you aren’t going to have kids, I’ll just give them to you and you can decide what you want to do with them. So how about we see if the guys are ready to eat lunch?” An obvious sign that SHE is the one who was afraid to cry and SHE is the one who is was so uncomfortable with my life that she couldn’t bring herself to ask me. She had it all wrapped up neatly in one of those zippered packages that you get when you buy a set of curtains. I could see the sweet baby colors and a bit of lace. I didn’t let it bother me in the moment but typing it out now – I’m shedding a few tears. That package just looked so sad, alone in that old chest of drawers. It’s true enough that my sister-in-law probably isn’t sentimental enough to have kept my brother’s baby things, and my sister is flaky enough that she probably sold hers at a garage sale. But mine remain.

    The friends I have who are childless are also not in a committed relationship and likely wouldn’t have understood. Other friends are (well, were) mostly compartmentalized. This is the friend I’d go to professional events with. This is the friend I’d go to concerts with. Some extra sharing might have happened but not much. My circle is smaller now, but these discussions just don’t happen organically.

    My husband and I talk – now. Back then, we were just trying to keep our shit together. In our early 30s, neither of us were worried about children. We needed to pay the mortgage and make it to the next therapy session. Suddenly we were in our mid-40s. We now acknowledge that maybe God still has a plan for us that does include children and we remain passively open to it. But we’re honestly happy enough with each other to not rock the boat. My regrets with him are few and I’m happy to have him, even without children.

    I come here when I’m low. And a few kind words from you, Sue (or one of the others), is enough. I’m reminded to count my blessings and to consider my life, even without children, a beautiful gift.

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    • Oh, Anon S, what a bittersweet thing with your mom and the baby things. So sad and so sweet. I know you mean about “compartmentalized friends.” I have those, too, people I enjoy but couldn’t imagine discussing my childlessness with. I’m glad we can be here to help. You all help me, too.

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  2. I don’t have anyone–the only person I ‘talk’ to about it is you, Sue, in my occasional comments on your blog. Like SilverShil0h says, people often make things worse by saying something insensitive or inappropriate. It is a heavy weight to bear, but it’s safer and easier to carry it on my own.

    A while ago, I made friends on Facebook with an American lady who wanted to write about my charity work on her blog. She asked why I did it, and I replied that I was childless and disabled by chronic illness. She said she knew just how I felt because she herself had wanted lots of children, but she was also sick and that meant she had only had two. I’m sure she meant well, but it hurt. We are still friends, but I never mentioned the subject again.

    Almost 15 years ago, we went to a wedding and a friend of my partner asked me when we were alone if I wanted to get married and have a family. I replied I did but that he didn’t and he wasn’t going to change his mind. She appeared to sympathize with me. A year later, we went to yet another wedding, and out of the blue she said, very loudly, “So are you going to leave X so you can have a family or just stay with him and string him along?” or words to that effect. He was out of earshot but everyone around us must have heard. I was so mortified.

    It’s hard to find someone who will truly listen to your story, keep it safe and take care of it in the way you need. If they try to engage at all, it is to make glib suggestions–those ‘you should just do this’ comments that you wrote a piece on a few weeks ago. It feels like no one can put themselves in our shoes and imagine how it feels to live this life. They are not willing to sit with our pain. This is nothing new to me–I have been ill since I was 19 and had the life I should have lived stolen from me. I talk to no one about that and the childlessness, is just an extension of that. It is sad, but it’s just the way it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Jo. How can people be so clueless? Wouldn’t we all like to have “only two” children. And the Big Mouth at the wedding, OMG. I’m glad we’re here for you, and you for me. Illness is tricky, too. It’s difficult for people not in your situation to understand. Take care, and keep in touch.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just reading through the comments, it strikes me what a gift it is when a person shares their real story with you, that part of their heart they’d prefer to shield but take a chance and open up. A gift that so many trample upon.

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  3. No one really. Like Jo so wisely said, hardly anyone feels safe. That’s why I write, read blogs, and comment. It’s my only way to connect about this very central issue (living my life without children after infertility) that has shaped my life.

    I had a best friend for many, many years that I could talk to. Not only was she a great person and listener, she also didn’t have kids so she could understand a lot of things a lot better. Sadly, she stopped talking to me earlier this year so that has been a big loss for me. (But, I don’t think it had to do with my recovery from infertility. Sadly, I think the reason is related to politics but that’s another story for another day, a topic that I will not be writing or talking about.)

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    • It’s hard to find a confidante who will really listen and understand. I’m sorry about the break with your friend. Politics are so ugly these days. Writing definitely helps.

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  4. I had a friend that would try to talk to me. At the time I wasn’t ready to acknowledge all my feelings fully, as I was in the middle of a messy divorce.
    I remember she once told me…. can you believe we are both 40 and both of us don’t have kids? We can talk.
    Six months later, I was ready to talk and drummed up all my courage to share. I couldn’t get one word in when she announced her pregnancy. I miss her.

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  5. It’s Father’s Day and my husband has three boys from a previous marriage. They’ve invited us over for a bbq, honestly I’m gutted. For some reason Father’s Day and Mother’s Day have hit me very hard this year. I’ve encouraged my husband to go but I’m trying to make an excuse not to go. I’m in my late 30’s and have no one to talk to. I’m very glad I found this blog and I’m comforted by the comments.

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    • Ella, it’s one of those most awkward days. If you need to stay home, do it. But he is a father and deserves all the honors. These are one of those times I”m grateful it’s just me and the dog now. Every day is the same to her. Hugs.

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  6. At the time it was actually happening (when my husband went ahead with a vasectomy despite my protests) I was just way too ashamed. I had only just gotten married a few months before. I wanted to pretend everything was fine. I hid it for several years from my family and friends. I told my mother eventually and she was pretty good about it. I’m sure she would have liked to be a grandmother, but family was never a big part of her identity. I’m an only child, not because she couldn’t have more kids but because she didn’t want to, so she’s not big into babies anyway. I only told friends about it after I was older and the fact that I wouldn’t be having kids was a foregone conclusion. I still didn’t really open up, I pretended it was much less of a big deal than it actually was. I had one friend I used to be able to talk to but her kids are 4 and 1 now so she’s always too busy. We haven’t talked in over a month. She used to understand though because she didn’t get married until she was 33, so she worried for years that she would turn out childless like me, so she gets how it feels. When she had baby showers she even said that if I didn’t want to go, it was okay and she understood. I did go though. How
    could I not for someone who was so kind to me?

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  7. I cannot explain the emotions I felt when I found your blog. I cried nonstop. I’m 36 and my husband doesn’t want children. I sobbed because I found someone that understood my emotions. Thank you for creating this space.

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  8. My SO of almost two years does not want children. In a previous relationship (that he thought was his last), he got a vasectomy, but the fact of the matter is he does not and will not ever have children. When he first told me this at the beginning of our relationship, I was broken and torn, but I stayed in the relationship because it felt right. This man cherishes me, takes care of me, loves me more than I ever thought was possible. I love our life and adventures together, but I worry as I grow older I will still want a child. Growing up, I always thought I’d go to school, get married, and have babies. I started off wanting four and before I met my now SO, I was down to wanting one. I’m stuck on this constant wheel of “do I stay with the love of my life and be childfree?” or “do I leave this relationship on the off chance I will meet someone who will have one baby with me?” I’m scared if I stay I will have regrets. I’m scared if I don’t I will regret having a baby (that’s a decision you can’t undo). I struggle because I don’t know if I want a child because I REALLY want to be a parent or if I have an idealized fantasy in my head because that’s the norm. It’s scary to be faced with these decisions because they are not easy. I feel terrible that my SO has to watch me go through this process of trying to decide what is best for me. I wish this was easier. Thank you for carving out this little space of the internet. It feels good to have understanding.

    Like

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