When you don’t have children, what else do you lose?
A lot, according to Tanya Hubbard, one of the speakers at last weekend’s online Childless Collective Summit. Hubbard, a counselor from Vancouver, Canada, specializes in working with people who are childless not by choice, a group that includes most of us here at Childless by Marriage.
She spoke about secondary losses, the often unacknowledged losses that come along with a primary loss. If someone you love dies, for example, you grieve the loss of that person, but there are other losses that come with it. After my father died, his house was sold. The new owners tore it down, ripped out everything in the yard, and built a new, much larger, house. One might say it was just a house, but it broke my heart. For 67 years, it was home to me.
For people who have dreamed of having children and now realize they never will, there are many secondary losses. Your identity in the world and your role in the family change. You lose friendships, the pleasure of giving your parents grandchildren, your sense of creating the next branch on the family tree, someone to inherit your memories and prized possessions, and someone to care for you in old age. At church, at work, and wherever you go, you will be different from most people. If you struggled with infertility, there are physical losses, such as hysterectomies, scars and trauma from IVF failures and miscarriages, financial losses, and a feeling that you can’t trust your body to do what it’s supposed to do.
However you end up childless, your dream of what your life was going to be goes out the window. Sure, you can dream a new dream. It’s possible to have a terrific life without children, but there are losses. As with everything in life, when you come to a fork in the road, you have to choose one way or the other. You can’t have both.
Hubbard suggested we draw a diagram shaped like a daisy. Write “childlessness” in the middle and then fill in the petals with other things you lose because you don’t have children. Some of us are going to need more petals. When you finish with that, I suggest you draw a second daisy, write “me” in the center and fill in the petals with everything else you are besides childless. I hope you need more petals for that, too.
We need to acknowledge and give ourselves permission to grieve our losses. Other people, particularly parents, may not understand, but the losses are real and you have a right to be sad. It’s okay to talk about it and to even seek therapy if you can’t manage it on your own. Some therapists will question what you’re so upset about. Find another one.
If you are childless by marriage, I pray that your partner acknowledges what you are giving up by choosing him or her and then helps you create a new life plan that will work for both of you.
You can find Hubbard on Instagram at @tanyahubbardcounseling.
I welcome your comments.
10 thoughts on “With Childlessness, the Related Losses Multiply”
Sue, I agree with all you said here. Not being able to have children also carries the stigma of ‘failure’ unlike the loss of a loved one. Not fitting in, people not understanding, pity . . . all forms of loss that are heaped on the involuntarily childless, which is a loss like no other. Thank goodness we have the internet and social media now, so that young women who share our burden are no longer carrying it alone. I would have welcomed it in my 30s and 40s when I walked the path alone, angry and afraid.
I look forward to your posts and your perspective Sue.
Thank you, Sue. I didn’t have any support in my 30s and 40s either. It would have been nice.
Great observation – pity of others. People love to pity others so they feel superior in their neat collection of milestones. I felt this not only with childlessness but more powerfully in a career progression setting. I haven’t been super fortunate with my career so I had to build myself up in another field and that was kind of similar to childlessness because you are stagnating for a while, doing something unusual, hard, without outside help or acknowledgment. I lost a lot of friends, but now I see that that made me stronger and more wise to what kind of people are kind and strong.
I don’t post or comment much, but I am so grateful for your blog and for you! I find your words of wisdom very comforting, when others’ (even my therapist’s) are not. We are in a difficult, complicated position that many just don’t understand. It is nice to know that there is someone out there who gets it. 🙂
I am childless—not by choice, nor by physical limitations. My fiancé had children when he was very young; and even though he talked about having more with me, he changed his mind when he started having grandchildren (yep, that hurt!). ALL of my friends and family have children, some grandchildren now. No one I know is childless, literally no one. It is easy to feel isolated and alone. I suffer from depression, panic attacks, and other relative issues; so I try to keep myself busy with activities that are designed to retrain my brain.
The daisy diagram was simple, yet profound, and I want to try it again after some time has passed to see if my daisies have changed. I had A LOT of petals 🙂 It made me sad, notably about a lonely future; but it also provided me with a great sense of relief because I know who I am, and who I will always be.
Thank you, again, for providing me—and so many others—this platform. It’s a place where I can go when it feels like I have no where else to go, and people I can turn to when there’s no one else to turn to.
I’m so glad the blog helps. We have to give credit to Tanya Hubbard for the daisy diagram.
There are so many losses involved with childlessness. In addition to the obvious things, I lost life’s typical milestones. I lost a feeling of connection with a lot of other women. I lost a sense of belonging in my own family. I lost the future I thought I’d have. While I was deep in grief, I lost the present moment for years.
I think the hardest loss for me was losing a piece of me to pour my love into. Everyone says to volunteer or get involved with other people’s kids, which can be great, but there are also healthy boundaries that need to be in place. There is a part of my love that I don’t feel like I will ever be able to give deeply.
Big hug, Phoenix. Every loss you list is one we all share. I know I have. The milestones, the bond with other women, that young person to love . . . it’s painful and we have every right to grieve.
It’s a really good exercise – to think about all the things that make us, and then to step back and see how few of them are that we are childless. Great post, Sue!
I just found your blog today, after spending the last two days taking a break from my partner to gain clarity about deciding on a future with no kids of my own. He is older than me and has two teenagers and will not have another child. Our relationship is wonderful and I am contemplating this idea of being a stepmom to kids I may or may not ever truly bond with and giving up parenthood for this life with him. My ambivalence is crippling, but it is so comforting to know that I am not alone and I am so grateful to have found this page. If I move forward on this path, I know there will be grief to work through. But I also look at it as there is grief when one decides to become a parent as well, as there are many sacrifices that come with parenthood. Again, thank you for this supportive community.
Trish, welcome. I’m sorry you have to deal with this. You are definitely not the only one, and I’m glad we can offer some support.