The choices that lead us to childlessness

Fred Lick and Chico

I’ve been rewriting a memoir about caring for my husband with Alzheimer’s disease. In describing where we were back then, I needed to look back at how we got there and the choices we made. One of the biggest for me was choosing to marry a man who would not give me children. Fifteen years older than I was, Fred already had three children from wife #1, followed by a vasectomy. He made it clear he did not want to deal with babies again.

So why did I marry him when I had always expected to have children? Was it simply that the demise of my first marriage had left me feeling that I would always be alone and that I had already missed my chance? Maybe. Was it that my career was always more important than the children I might have had? I wonder.

I wish I could be anonymous today, but let’s dive into the reasons I committed my life to this man and gave up motherhood. As they say on American Idol, in no particular order. . .

  1. He had three children who could become my children. Instant family, two boys and a girl, no labor pains, no stretch marks. We didn’t exactly become the Brady Bunch, but they were kids and they were kind of mine. I got a partial membership to the Mom Club.
  2. I love, love, loved Fred. Still do. And he loved me.
  3. Men weren’t exactly lining up to be with me. After the divorce and a few more failed relationships, I thought I would be alone forever. Being married with no children beat not being married at all.
  4. My last relationship before I met Fred had exploded, leaving me a wreck. The man was verbally and sexually abusive and threatened to dump me every time I tried to stand up for myself. Fred was kind, smart, respectful and loving. He treated me like a princess.
  5. He brought love, family, and financial stability. I was not a “golddigger.” I did not marry Fred for money–he wasn’t rich–but I was aware that being with him would raise me out of poverty and let me pursue my writing and music dreams.
  6. Fred was a freaking catch.

I didn’t analyze it at the time. I didn’t make a list of pros and cons. We were ridiculously in love. Period. We both had been hurt in previous relationships and were happy to find love again. We had a lot in common. We fit. I have never regretted that choice.

Not that he was perfect. He had his quirks, but I’m kind of a pain in the ass, so I think I lucked out.

Until today, I never thought hard about why Fred chose me. I was his friend Mike’s sister. He found me pretty, talented, sexy and available. But I wondered at the time if he was ready for a new relationship. I had been single for four years, but he and his first wife had split less than a year earlier. Their divorce wasn’t final yet. Was I the rebound girl? Was it just that Fred couldn’t stand to be alone? I have seen men marry younger women to fluff their egos, take care of their kids, and cook their meals. I have seen men hook up with women with well-paid jobs to share their money. But Fred was doing fine on his own. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He’s here not to ask, so let’s just say I appeared at the right time and place and it was good for both of us. Or, as I tell my religious friends, God put us together, one of his miracles.

Enough about me. More than enough. Hindsight is always 20-20, as the tiresome saying goes. If you’re in the midst of a potentially childless by marriage situation, don’t wait for hindsight. Go somewhere by yourself and analyze your choices while you have time to change your mind—or decide that you don’t want to change a thing. Just know why you’re doing it.

I welcome your comments.

NOTE: This is the 750th post at the Childless by Marriage blog. It started in 2007, years before the Childless by Marriage book was published. I’m amazed. I brag that I could write 500 words on any subject, but still…

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9 thoughts on “The choices that lead us to childlessness

  1. Fred sounds wonderful. I’m glad you both had each other.

    My sister found her now-husband – 11 years older than her, divorced with two kids, and he didn’t want more – after the break up of her first marriage. At the time I was going through infertility. I spoke to her briefly about it, warning her that time was not on her side. Like you, she’d been in a bad relationship. She wanted him and their good relationship, rather than children she might never get anyway. It was a choice. Not everyone gets to have the best of both worlds. She recognised that.

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  2. Sue,

    Your post struck a chord within me. I didn’t marry until I was 42 and my wife was 45. We decided not to have kids. She has two sons from her first marriage and I care for them. But I don’t love them unconditionally. Same with her grandsons. I’ve tried to be grandfatherly and I just can’t do it. In fact I’ll take her to her son’s house, but I don’t stay to be reminded they aren’t my DNA. in retrospect, I should have married a much younger woman who would have given me children. And this may piss some people off, if it does, so be it. Being a stepdad is an empty, lackluster experience. And “National Chopped Liver Day,” aka Father’s Day, is coming up. I dread this day like the plague. I’d rather eat Brussels sprouts with liver on the side.

    Be safe,
    Tony

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      • Sue,

        You’re right. As I’ve said in other comments, men have biological clocks as well. And sadly men are looked at as incomplete being childless. It ain’t a lot of fun
        !

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  3. Actions are the result of measured decisions (or expectations) to do something. Or by unconscious decisions to NOT do anything.

    People Pleasers (like myself) deal with this all the time. When you grow up in a strict environment you find that the lines are blurred. You want to make your family happy. You play by THE rules – only you never learn that it’s THEIR rules – not THE rules of the universe. Late in life you might realize all this and you might consider that you aren’t happy, but since you don’t know any other way you continue on as best you can.

    I grew up with the knowledge that if you get pregnant before you are married your life, reputation, possibly place in heaven – are over.

    When I finally married, my mom shared with me that she wished she had waited a lot longer to start a family. She really seemed to dislike being a mother. I took note of this and waited until I was “ready”. Probably I was waiting for her to tell me when I was ready. As an adult I can see how she struggles in general and I finally understand that motherhood isn’t a total drag and that people do – in fact – love and enjoy their role.

    Most of my early choices are the result of wanting to please my old-fashioned parents. While I watched my peers struggle a little here and there, it’s no surprise that many of my decisions blew up in my face–epic-ly. And it took awhile to clean up the damage. When you finally realize that you need to change, the guilt is overwhelming. So people like me change slowly. Too slowly.

    One day you realize that you’ve wasted a lot of time. You’ve made a lot of bad decisions. And now your life can begin. You learn that God will help you, people will support you, and you’ll find strength to build a new set of rules for yourself. But science isn’t going to accommodate you and, at this point, your mother ship has sailed.

    Thanks for sharing the photo of Fred. A good-looking and, from what I have learned, great man. Your life as a mother with a lesser man could have ended badly. But you made choices, loved, and enjoyed your life with him. That is a success!

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  4. Childlessness not by choice has been a very long arduous journey for me. It was decided by my husband to not have children, and then he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. By the time he put his foot down and expressed out loud what I had been not wanting to see, we had been married for over a decade. We were both late bloomers and so it took over a decade to finish college and get started in his career particularly. I was fed a lot of misinformation. I married young and it was in the days where it was preferred for the man to work a career. I was very influenced by the unspoken rules in his family, where the man was the breadwinner. I always knew something was off but held out hope due to my faith that it would all work out and we would be settled with children and everything would be okay. Well it wasn’t .
    I love what you wrote, Sue. Though we don’t share similar paths, there are similarities. When I met my husband, I felt he was intelligent. He was from the same high school. Our dads had traveled and we both had lived out of the country due to our dads’ work. We both played music. I loved him. Well what more could one ask for, especially when other past relationships with men had not panned out and the one previous to my husband was disastrous. The hardest part of this is that he does not grieve not having kids. He doesn’t understand, due to his Asperger’s, the cause and effect of his decision. It is hard for me to digest how in 2021, where things have changed in many ways, for women, and having children especially out of wedlock, how I ended up where I am without children. But your blog helps me to remember the good side of things. He was and is good looking, smart. We do music together. I help him stay grounded and involved to some extent with human interaction. On this road of childlessness, where there are so many comparisons with those who have children, with so much that can take the wind out of your sails at any given moment, with the losses I have endured, climbing Everest would be easier than going through these difficult griefs and emotions. It is good to pause and get information and see how, if you do think and quiet your heart, there is some good to value. Thank you again for your blog post.

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  5. Beautifully written Sue. I have so many reasons that I’m childless not by choice that I had to create a mind map to get all of them out of my head and into black and white. That really helped me to process the whole thing (which in my case is rather a lifelong process).

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