Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

I love Jackie Shannon Hollis and I love, love, love her book, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. [I wrote about it previously; read that post here].

When I saw that she was going to be on The Childfree Girls podcast, I decide to listen. You can see and hear it here:

She was of course wise and wonderful, and I envy her rich radio voice. The interviewers were lovely and smart, but they were all definitely in the don’t-want-babies-ever camp. That’s fine. They have the right to choose. One of the wonderful things about this era as opposed to earlier times is that women have a lot more choices for their lives.

Jackie told her story of how she didn’t feel the craving to have children when she was younger, although she had been raised to believe that’s what people did when they grew up, but then in her 30s, married to her second husband, she started to long for children, even though they had agreed not to have them. Her husband remained firmly in the no-baby camp.

She felt something missing in her life. She had dreams about babies and was fascinated by pregnancy. She asked her husband repeatedly, “Why don’t you want to have a child?” Although he respected her feelings, he did not change his mind. Ultimately she asked herself WHY do I want to have a baby and decided she would let go of that dream.

Now, she says, “I am quite content with my life, and I also have times when I am quite aware of the otherness of not having children.” Being in a world of pronatalism, celebration of pregnancy and childbirth, she feels, as we all do, caught between those with children and those without.

The women on the podcast talked about interacting with their parent friends and dealing with the questions we all get. When people ask why she doesn’t have children, Jackie says she likes to turn it around and ask why they do. Everyone agreed that too many people become parents without asking why they’re doing it.

It was a good session, but something bothered me. I felt like Jackie was being pushed to share the childfree point of view, to fit in with them and not admit to any doubts, regret or grief over her decision. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe I’m just defensive about my own choices.

I have know women who claim that they have moved from “childless” to “childfree.” I don’t see that ever happening for me. I wanted children, and I still wish I had children. Although I appreciate the time and freedom I have had all these years and I know I might have missed a lot of wonderful things, I do not like going into old age alone.

And it is alone. As I listened, I kept talking back to the computer saying, “But you’re not alone. You have your husbands.”

Of course they couldn’t hear me. But sometimes when I’m around people who never wanted to have children, I feel like I’m being shamed for not embracing the joys of the childfree life, like the childfree folks are the cool kids and we’re the old-fashioned mommy wannabes. I suspect even those who embrace the childfree name might sometimes feel a little twinge, maybe a little doubt, but won’t admit it to their peers.

We’re all different. Even those of us who have moments of total heartbreak over our lack of children are probably okay with it a lot of the time. In the end, we’re all people whose state of mind varies constantly and who all deal with the nosy questions about why we don’t have kids or why we don’t “just” adopt. We feel left out of activities designed for “families,” grit our teeth through baby showers and grandma talk, and wonder who will help us in our old age.

A person in my life with whom I don’t get along very well told me once when I was feeling sad about not having kids, “Well, it’s your own damned fault.” Is it? Is that what she really thinks? Is that what other people think? Do we have to defend our choices and constantly explain that we’re not infertile but we’re also not joyfully childfree?

Jackie did great on the interview. She was able to turn the discussion around and ask questions of her three young hosts so the focus was not all on her. I don’t feel confident enough to put myself in that situation, even though I think we should all embrace the right to feel however we feel and say it out loud to anyone.

Maybe I’m all wrong, maybe I’m just conflicted about my choices, but do you know what I mean? Do some people make you feel like you have to defend yourself for accepting your childless-by-marriage situation and being sad about it? I’d love to hear what you think.

BTW, I get my podcasts about childlessness via an app called listennotes.com. It works like Google alerts. Type in your topic and you’ll get regular emails about podcasts that mention the subject you request. It costs $5 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

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8 thoughts on “Do We Have to Defend Our Childless by Marriage Choices?

  1. Thanks for the tip on the podcast app! I’m definitely going to try and listen to it.

    I’m not childless by marriage in the way that you mean, but I don’t think you or any of us should have to defend our choices, or our lives. Unfortunately society does set us up for being put in that position, but I firmly think we should be allowed to hold our ground and not have to justify who we are or why we are in our situations. As you point out, Jackie turns the table on the parents (I love that) to prove my point.

    And I don’t like labels either – I might feel childless sometimes, and childfree other times, but I’m “Mali” all the time, and that’s the only label I want!

    As for your friend who said, “well, it’s your own damn fault!” Her response says so much – that’s not very pleasant – about her. What an unkind thing for her to say. Talk about missing empathy when it was handed out!

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  2. Hi Sue. I love how you always ask a question in your blog posts, inviting us in to answer and share our experience with you.

    Since my situation is a bit different (I had infertility issues and my husband, ten years older, was ambivalent about having kids, so we didn’t pursue things as aggressively as I would have if he had wanted kids), I usually feel like there should be a different word for what I did than make a ‘choice’. Marry/stay with the person I fell in love with, or leave for the chance to have kids (no guarantees) as a single parent or longshot: finding someone else? It’s a choice, but I’m (ironically) reminded of Sophie’s Choice when I think about how I felt at that time in my life of ‘stay or go’. You know in all likelihood you will one day look back and wonder, “what if I had made the other decision?” And even though by now I’m happy most of the time, and I love my husband, I carry the sadness in my heart like a scar that sometimes flares up and burns. And it’s likely I will outlive my husband since he is a decade older, when the feelings of being alone in my old age will become another source of sadness.

    As for defending ourselves, I think it’s natural to feel the urge to do so when you sense someone is making an assumption or judgement about you that is off the mark. Doesn’t mean we have to offer a defense but I think it’s natural to feel like we do.

    I am curious what your response was to your “friend” when she said what she did. Is she still in your life?

    I haven’t been exposed to many women who made the choice not to have kids, so it was interesting reading your reaction to their conversation. Feeling like you might even have to defend yourself to them . . .

    I always look forward to your blog posts, Sue. Sharing is helpful.

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    • Thank you, Susan. Every situation is different. It’s never black and white. It often is a “Sophie’s Choice.” The woman is still in my life. I told her quite emotionally that it was not my fault, that I wanted kids and it breaks my heart. I don’t think she got it.

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      • Sue, I am so sorry, that broke my heart to even read that someone would think that, let alone say it to you. Yeah I would imagine that she doesn’t get it.

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  3. Childless hits me when I least expect it. I didn’t expect to feel itchy and sad at my niece’s bridal shower. But when “they” were all taking photos it was, “Mom-Bride-Sister” and then “Bride-Sister”, then “Mom-Bride”. Then grandmothers and all the cute cousins. Then the bride wanted her photo taken with her bridal party. Then her work friends. The mother’s friends and their crew all crowded together to smile. My niece is the first one in their friends group getting married. Pretty much everyone was featured except for the aunt, although my sister in law (SIL) is very nice and made the attempt, “Oh, Anon! We need a photo with you.” (spoiler alert, I posed but they really didn’t need that photo).

    My SIL’s friend introduced herself as my nieces “second mom” and my SIL smiled in appreciation that her friend was so special to them. But it hurt me. I would have loved to have been welcomed in and counted on. How unfair that this woman, who already had a bunch of kids of her own, got to be a second mom to my niece.

    When I went home that afternoon, I forced myself to stay busy but I couldn’t help but feel lonely. I knew they were all hanging out at their house, sorting through the gifts, eating leftovers but still deciding to order a pizza for dinner, having a drink, laughing. For me personally, I feel empty after watching others be together.

    But, there’s nothing to be done about it. After a party, you all go home to your own family and lives. Even the “second mom” would be hanging out with her own family and not even thinking about my niece. It’s not anyone’s fault I have a much smaller life to return to. And why on earth should anyone be responsible for making sure I’m okay after a fun day? I don’t write this bitterly. I really understand that this is a “me” situation to work through.

    But then, other times, I’m confident. Last night I was on a committee with five other woman. After the business was complete, we enjoyed drinks and chatter. They all moaned and groaned and laughed about their dealings with another woman in the community. I listened, fascinated and entertained. I inserted my voice and said, “See, that’s one great thing about not having kids – I don’t have to deal with this sort of nonsense and those sort of difficult parents.”

    ——chirp——-

    I said this with total appreciation of knowing what a small blessing I have. But it was like I told them all that I had cancer and wanted them to drive me to chemo. They stopped laughing and looked around awkwardly until I sparked the conversation alive again by asking a question about this awful woman (nay, mother) they all dreaded. Then laughter ensued again. I found it irritating that they could “brag” about parental stuff but when I “bragged” about the flip side, not one person could cheerfully reply, “Yes, you ARE lucky. This woman is awful.”

    To be honest, I felt sort of powerful in that moment. I could have said any number of things in that moment and they would have listened. Probably judged me for it, but still – I had something there.

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