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.