It Hits Me Hard: I Could Have Made a Person

Dear friends,

I debated about whether to share this post. It’s a bit intense and belies the image I’d like to project of someone who has dealt with her childlessness and become a wise elder, but perhaps this moment of truth will help someone who still has time to change her or his situation. I read it last week at “Coffee and Grief,” an online reading series and now I share it with you

Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

I don’t know why these things come into my mind when they do. I was taking a quick bathroom break while my chicken took 10 more minutes in the oven, just long enough for me to put together the rest of my dinner, when it suddenly came to me that instead of choosing my man over the children I might have had, I could have made a person, a full-grown person like me. I never thought about it this way before.

For some reason, my brother comes to mind. I could have made a man like him, a real man. Or a woman. My brother is a judge, but my children could have been anything. I could have made people. With arms and legs and hearts and kidneys. With ideas, abilities, and feelings. With hands like mine. With brown eyes like mine. A man or woman who laughs, cries, loves . . . my heart is breaking. I could have done that, and I didn’t. Who would give up the chance to make a person?

Here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we talk about babies all the time. We want to have a baby. Our partner doesn’t. Or can’t. Babies take lots of care and cost money and interrupt one’s life in enormous ways. But babies are the seeds for grown people. Oh my God, what a miracle. That I could have a grown person walk through my door whom I made inside my own body, that that person could hug me—or fix my broken light fixture–or just talk and listen, that I could teach them and they could teach me…

That we could show up at a restaurant, church, or party as a team, a whole family instead of me walking in alone. That we could watch Fourth of July fireworks together. That they might make me a birthday cake and sing to me. That they could make children of their own and they would all be part of my family and we would grow and grow, new people to make up for each one who died. That someday, a young descendant might look me up on Ancestry.com and trace the lines leading from me to themselves instead of a name leading nowhere. Sure, there would be losses and sorrows. Some of my family might die. Some might be disabled. Some might be nasty, rotten people who want nothing to do with me. I know.

Of course, I might have proved to be infertile, although I don’t know of any problems in that area. If I were infertile, there would be no end to the sorrow, but maybe I’d feel less guilt. At least I tried.

In this minute while my chicken is probably burning and the dog is picketing my office door because her dinner is late, suddenly the reality is unbearable. I missed my chance, and now I can’t go back.

I consider my marriages. My first husband was a child, barely 30 when we divorced. He was unfaithful, drank too much, and didn’t want to work, but now I can see he was still so very young, and I was even younger. If the marriage had not failed, we might have had children after all.

And Fred, well, shoot, nobody ever loved me like that. Nobody else ever will. But he was older and had already made his own family. And now, too soon, he’s gone. Alzheimer’s. It’s just me and the dog.

It was all timing. Miserable, unfortunate timing.

Damn.

Maybe my church is right. Throw out the birth control, outlaw abortion. I know, we can’t do that. We need those things, but sometimes . . . What if we just tell all those people who don’t want children to find other people who don’t want children and leave the rest of us alone.

Young women whose partners won’t give them children often worry that they will regret their choice later. You will. No matter what you do. But not all the time. Most days, I’m fine, and you will be too. We can only do the best we can. If that means we cook a chicken dinner for one on a Sunday night, so be it.

This thought, that I could have made a person, hit me shortly after I turned over the chicken in the oven. It couldn’t be the chicken’s fault, but be warned, even at 68, childlessness can suddenly squeeze your heart and make your chicken taste like cardboard.

Today I’m okay. Taking care of business. But I still have these moments. How about you? I welcome your comments.

*****

Annie is doing better, but now she has an infected wound near her eye, requiring ointment and more pills and frequent checks to make sure she’s not rubbing it. I may not have had children, but I do know about taking care of other family members.

*****

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13 thoughts on “It Hits Me Hard: I Could Have Made a Person

  1. A few things. First, a hug. Next …

    When you deal with infertility, there’s still a lot of guilt (in my case, anyway). Guilt for waiting too long. Guilt – did I try hard enough? Guilt – did I want it enough? Guilt – did I deserve this? Guilt – for putting my husband through the loss, and now childlessness. Guilt that I’ve mostly been able to banish. But guilt is plentiful. I think you should be kinder to yourself, and let go of any guilt you might feel. We make decisions based on our feelings and knowledge at the time. That’s what we do, to the best of our ability. We shouldn’t feel guilty for that.

    And yes, occasionally, I am hit with the memories/imaginings of the people I might have created. I had an ouch moment before Christmas, when my sister-in-law sent me a video of her kids (all teenagers) interacting with her husband. I was struck with the noise, the love, the vibrancy of the relationship. It tore at me. I missed it even though I never had it. It was never the baby I wanted. It was always the children or the people they would become that I have mourned. Though of course, we always imagine the good people they would become – not the selfish, or the troubled, or the ill people we might have made. So even our what-ifs are unfair to ourselves, and our sometimes fragile hearts.

    Finally, I don’t believe that it’s definite that a young woman whose partner doesn’t want children will regret it. Some will. Some won’t. You do, it seems. I’m glad though that it’s not all the time. And I hope the memories of Fred’s love help you get through those rough moments that we all experience.

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    • Mali, thank you so much. You’re right about the guilt with infertility. Of course you will wonder if things would have been different if you’d started sooner or hung in longer or made different decisions along the way. Thank you for reminding us of this.

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  2. Sue, such a moving article. Thank you for your openness, your honesty. I believe the feelings of loss around childlessness and the ‘what ifs’ will never fully leave us but become more manageable over time. This does not preclude experiencing those acute moments as you share here with us: oh the enormity of it!! But these do pass, the intensity does wane. Of course, even wise elders, such as your generous self, have these moments. Yet you and we survive them, bear them, integrate them into the complexity of who we are.

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  3. Thank you for your article Sue. Yes, childlessness does tend to ‘bite me in the butt’ every now and then, although not so often now, in my 60’s. I have stepchildren and (step) grandchildren but do not always feel included as a ‘real’ family member. That is another subject, I know, but it does sometimes make me wonder if I made the right life choices, that I might have found someone with whom I could have pursued child adoption. I do know I am living daily with an underlying grief, and that even though I didn’t consciously choose it, I’m living a braver life than I thought possible. I am a stronger, and better person because of it.

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  4. dear sue,
    ooh yes, this one hit me right in that tender spot and brought up an intensity i haven’t felt in years,
    a gift, an invitation to process a new aspect of this grief in a whole new way.
    thank you for your beautifully crafted and deeply authentic voice.
    blessings,
    sarah

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  5. Sue, I so wish that you were close to your stepchildren. I wish they made an effort to keep you in their lives, to love you for having loved their dad, not to mention for helping to raise one of them for a while. Maybe it’s not for me to say but it does make me sad that the only “closeness” you have is really just sort of being connected, like on Facebook. I feel for you so much when reading this. I hope that they can, too. I can tell you that even some moms feel a bit of this feeling that they could have made a person, moms who wanted more children or wanted their own biological children, they love the children they do have but there may still be a person they could have made. Though of course, it’s not the same as the grief of not having children. I think that your blog is just so important and inspiring, and speaks to so many people.

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  6. Sue,

    You’re right. This post was quite intense. I never thought about being childless in that context. Sue, I’ve gotten all manner of criticism, insults and rudeness because I have no children of my own. You’re the only person who has helped me navigate these
    emotional waters. You made a very positive difference for me.

    Peace,
    Tony

    Like

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