Those of us in the United States and other “first world” countries who wanted children but don’t have them for whatever reason have our issues. We feel left out while our friends are busy with their children. We grieve the children we will never have. We are bombarded with nosy questions and suggestions from people who don’t understand our situation. But our lack of children does not endanger our physical safety or our status as full-fledged citizens. In some parts of the world, that is not true, particularly for women.
In her book Childless Voices, Lorna Gibb tells the stories of some of these women.
Khadiga, who lives in Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, is unable to have children. She does not feel worthy to marry, so she remains single, living with her parents and working as a banker. Her family, who lived near a school, had to move because the parents of the students would call her names whenever she passed by.
In India, it is worse. Gibb tells of childless women who are beaten by their husbands, shamed by their community, and made to feel so bad they commit suicide. In New Delhi, a 28-year-old woman who was depressed by her inability to conceive jumped out a window to her death. Another set herself on fire. Another hung herself.
In some cultures, the infertile wife is replaced by a second wife brought in to bear children. In Ghana, where infertility is seen as a curse, women without children may be branded as witches and forced to live apart from the rest of the community. In Yoruba, the childless woman is not considered a full-fledged adult and is not allowed to voice her opinion in public.
Although men may feel bad about their lack of children, the women are generally blamed, even if the husband is the one who is infertile. Often, the man refuses to be tested or even to consider that his lack of sperm may be the problem. Instead he lashes out at his wife. Writes Gibb: “The inability to have a child makes a man emasculated; he reasserts his dominant position by subjugating his wife through physical pain.”
Gibb writes about a small village near Delhi where “childless couples are regarded with suspicion, marked as cursed in a state known for its high birth rates, often forbidden from attending social and community events.” Some have resorted to human sacrifices in the hope of curing infertility.
The horror stories go on and on. In many parts of the world, having children is a requirement, not a choice. There is no dickering about husband or wife not wanting to have a baby, no right to choose career, art, freedom or whatever over parenthood. There is no choice. You must have children, and if you are unable to, there will be consequences.
For most readers here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we do have choices. They are difficult choices. We worry about grief, regrets, loneliness, and having no one to take care of us in old age, but whatever we choose, we can still have safety, love, work, and respect. Let’s count our blessings and pray for those who are treated badly for their lack of children.
Thank you, Lorna Gibb, for showing us what it’s like outside our bubble.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever suffered serious consequences for your childless state? Please share in the comments.
The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.
8 thoughts on “What is the Price You Pay for Childlessness?”
I am childless because I knowingly chose to marry a woman with a long term health problem. I think I fall between the stools of the intentionally childless and the people who have been through IVF and failed to conceive. I think it affected me more emotionally when my wife turned 41 and the fertility ship for a first child really had sailed. We’re still together and doing well but I think there is very little out there for men in a similar boat. I think because of what happens in other cultures (alluded to in the article) it is all about validating the infertile woman first.
Thank you for sharing this. When that ship sails, it’s hard to watch it disappear over the horizon. I fear the punishment for women loving women may be even worse than that for hetero couples not having babies. Yes, let’s validate the infertile woman first.
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I can only try and empathise with how it might be for women who love women. I expect they have to contemplate the additional complications of unsympathetic adoption agencies or the involvement of male biological fathers.
I’m sure it’s very complicated.
I was going to post that I’ve paid for my childlessness in the loss of friendships. But if a child is the glue to holding a relationship together – I doubt it was a loss. And yet, I know that I’ve been overlooked. Obviously small potatoes compared to the parts of the world you describe.
Your post sort of clears something up for me. A friend who hails from India resides in the US. Her parents visit ever other year and I’ve met them, they are a delight. The second time I met them I was given a gift of a beautiful piece of art. Fertility goddess. “For you!” her mother said, with a kind, encouraging, but slightly sad look as she tapped her own heart.
I do not display it.
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Yes. The feeling about having children is quite different in India.
I found your channel years ago when I was trying to conceive. At the time, my husband was trying to get his vasectomy reversed (he had two children from his ‘practice marriage’, as I call it). I didn’t know if it things would work out as I was getting older and older (luckily I now have two beautiful sons, as well as two bonus children with the step-kids) – my point is, you gave me great perspective about this challenging and important topic.
Your blog is so beautifully and thoughtfully written (I can tell you are a professional writer!). I often drop back in to read and learn more about my childless/childfree sisters. Via you, I hope I’ve learned some grace – certainly one thing I never do now is ask about anyone’s parental status (e.g. when are you going to have kids, etc). It’s none of my business and everyone’s story is personal. I try to ask instead ‘what are your passions’, ‘what motivates you’, etc. Something that can start the conversation on a deeper level rather than shut people down over this divisive topic.
What you do on this platform is so important and so valuable. Thank you so much for that.
Greetings from Australia,
Thank you so much, Fiona. I’m happy you are still dropping in to visit.