Can You Answer the Hard Questions About Childlessness?

Jo Vraca

Do you get stuttery when people start asking questions about your childless situation? I sure felt like I did last night when I was being interviewed for an upcoming podcast. And I’ve published two books and over 700 blog posts on the subject. Jo Vraca of the UnRipe podcast from Melbourne, Australia asked some tough questions that I found difficult to answer.

I have told the story of how I came to be childless many times. First husband didn’t want them, second husband had a vasectomy and three kids from his first marriage. But she pressed for more.

When did I know for sure that my first husband didn’t want children? There was that comment, when I thought I might be pregnant, that if I was, he’d be gone, but did he actually say, “I never want to have children.” No. Why didn’t I press him on it, get a commitment one way or the other? Why didn’t I threaten to leave? I was only in my 20s. Why didn’t I take my fertile eggs and find someone who wanted more than a sex partner?

I don’t know. I was young. It was the 70s. We were Catholic. I thought we had to stay married. I thought no one else would want me. I thought eventually he’d give in. After six years, a few months after he announced that he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay married, I caught him cheating. I moved out and filed for divorce. The Catholic Church annulled the marriage based on his refusal to have children.  

I haven’t seen my ex since 1981 (I know, longer than many of you have been alive.) Through his sister and through searching online, I know he got married two more times and never fathered any children. So maybe I have my answer.

But why did I let him take motherhood away from me? I wish I had a good answer for that.

Then came Fred. I knew the facts, and yet I didn’t face my future as a childless woman for a long time. When did I know for sure? Again, I can’t say. I guess I knew it as I approached 40 and saw no Disney movie magic making my dreams come true. Was there a day when I said, well, if I’m married to Fred, I’m never going to have any children? Not until after I went through menopause in my early 50s. Why not? Was I hoping the stepchildren would fill the gap? I guess I was. Did they? No. Maybe if their father had been more involved, if I had tried harder, if my family had been more welcoming . . .” They’re not in my life, and I feel this big knot of guilt when I think about them.

Finally, knowing everything I know now, would I still stay with Fred? Yes. I never met anyone else I’d rather be with. I just wish childlessness had been a more conscious decision and that we had talked about it more.

Jo Vraca asked really challenging questions. She’s a good interviewer, and she doesn’t waste time on nonsense like so many podcasters do. She forces people to think, and that’s a good thing.

My UnRipe interview will be online in a few weeks. I’ll share the link when it’s available. Meanwhile, give some of the other interviews a listen.

Jo, an author, dog and cat mom and chef in training, is childless herself. At first, she and her husband both agreed they weren’t interested in having children. But as the biological clock ticked down, she changed her mind. He went along with it, but they couldn’t conceive. They tried IVF, but it didn’t work. Finally, he said he really didn’t want to have a child or to go through any more fertility treatments. So they stopped.  

Life happens, and often we don’t note the moments that change things. Years later, we look back and wonder: How did that happen?

Does this stir up some questions for you? I’d love to read your comments.

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2 thoughts on “Can You Answer the Hard Questions About Childlessness?

  1. The years pass quickly, don’t they? I remember a phone call with a friend. We chatted a lot about this sort of thing. “By the time I’m 30, I’ll make sure it happens.” And I thought I would. I had a messy marriage to clean up first. It took longer than expected. Still, I could have forced it a little. Slow and steady was, and still is, my motto.

    When we figured out how to “live happily every after,” we were skating near our 40s. I consulted a family member who works in family services. Our history, and my husband’s record, could be overlooked. In her opinion, she was confident we could have success with adoption, and she offered to point us in all the right directions. Even at that time, we weren’t ready. Financially, we didn’t look good on paper. Our home wasn’t really set up for children. We had some work to do and I told her so.

    “Just don’t wait too long – you’ll never be ‘ready.’ You can’t wait for perfection,” she warned us, but I assured her that I knew what I was doing.

    And now, suddenly, we’re in our late 40s and I doubt anyone would give us a child. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe this is our bed and we should lie in it (and sleep until noon if we want). It’s not a bad life by any means – just quiet.

    I do worry about the death of my husband. We do so much for each other that losing him will be greater for me than a friend who can simply call her son up to take care of things. I will have to carefully choose the favors I ask of nieces and nephews. I will need to be prepared to pay for services that others can make their children do for them. My husband will fare better if I go first. He’s the charming sort of person who makes things happen. Slow and steady, I get things done – alone. I wonder if people with grown children think about this sort of thing as much as I do.

    Not many people ask any more about our lack of children. People who know us have stopped speculating. New people are usually too polite. I’m old enough to be a little sassy if I don’t like their line of questioning. Usually I’m okay. Sometimes I still think I’m a 20-year-old with all the time in the world. But wow, did the years pass quickly.

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