Childless by marriage vs. childless by infertility

Being childless through infertility and being childless by marriage, when the issue is not lack of eggs or sperm, are two very different things. With infertility, couples try hard to conceive and deliver a child. They undergo all kinds of invasive treatments, spend huge amounts of money, and ride a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment, only to end up still childless. Some suffer multiple miscarriages and a grief those of us who have never been pregnant can only imagine.

They have no choice in this outcome. They did everything they could. Adopt? It’s not so easy, especially if you have already used up all the time, money, and energy you can spare.

When a couple is infertile, whether the problem is from his sperm or a problem with her reproductive system, their only choices are to accept their fate, try whatever they can, and ultimately to stop trying. They do it together because they both long to be parents.

It is possible to be childless by marriage because your spouse is infertile. You may not know that in advance. When you find out, you have a choice: stay and face the same choices as other infertile couples or split up and look for someone who can give you children.

Is that your story? I know some of you reading this are in that situation.

What if you knew going into the marriage that children would be impossible with this person? So many men, especially those who were married before, have had vasectomies. Is it possible to get them reversed? Yes, but the surgery doesn’t always work. The longer it has been, the less likely the man will be able to provide healthy sperm.

What if there’s no physical reason you can’t have children together? What if it’s just that your mate does not want kids? That’s quite different. I wonder about relationships where couples disagree on something so huge. What else will they clash on? Money? Career? Where to live? But you love each other. So maybe you can accept a marriage without children. Or maybe you can’t. You do have a choice. You can take your healthy sperm or your fertile ovaries elsewhere.

What if you never find anyone else? Ah, that’s the risk. It’s a gamble. But unlike those struggling with infertility, at least you get to roll the dice.

Last week’s webinars at World Childless Week got me thinking. A majority of the speakers were childless due to fertility problems. They are grieving and trying to build new lives after years of fertility treatments and disappointment. As I sat here with my healthy never-used uterus, I could identify with much of what they said because we are all lacking children. We all deal with insensitive comments, feel left out at family gatherings, and grieve the children we might have had, but suddenly it came at me with big flashing lights: I had a choice. They did not.

What do you think about this? How is it different being childless due to infertility and being childless because you chose a person who doesn’t want kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you missed any or all of the sessions at World Childless Week, you can still watch the recordings at worldchildlessweek.net.

Thank you all for being here.

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7 thoughts on “Childless by marriage vs. childless by infertility

  1. This is an interesting topic. I am childless due to infertility. I am also divorced from the man I tried to have children with. Now I have a boyfriend whose children are already grown and he doesn’t want any more. It works out for us because he doesn’t want more and I can’t have any. But what if I could? I’m in love with him. We are building a life together. Is it really a choice to be childless by staying with him? Like Tom Petty sang, “Good love is hard to find.” I’m not sure I would give up what I have with him just for the chance that I might find love elsewhere with a partner who wants children. Of course, it’s all a null point for me. I’m infertile. But I’m not so quick to agree that being childless by marriage is a choice. It kind of is and kind of isn’t. That’s my opinion only though. I don’t want to speak for you or anyone else. ❤

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  2. I struggle with the concept that it is a choice. How can leaving a person and home you love, and going through all the heartache that leaving would bring be a choice? Loving someone isn’t a choice. Wanting to stay in a secure and loving relationship is more complex and deeply emotional than choice. Yes, on the face of it, I could end my relationship to take the risk, but to have a choice of two different heartaches doesn’t feel like choice at all. Choice implies empowerment. I don’t think it feels like that.

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  3. For me, it didn’t feel like a choice. What I told myself was, why would I leave someone I know I love to have children with someone I haven’t met? I only wanted to have children with my husband. But what happened between us was complex. He did not want to have children because he didn’t want to disappoint his mother, who is very religious and frowns upon mixed marriage with people of a different religion. I often feel like maybe I let myself get run over by these people. The pain of it really doesn’t go away, and neither does the resentment. I probably should not have accepted this situation. But at the time, I felt like it would have been selfish to leave.

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  4. Hi, Sue. I’ve been reading your blog for about 4 years now, but I had never commented. I met my partner at 41 and before that I had never had a long-term relationship (believe it or not purely by circumstance, and with those other men I dated I always took extremely good care not to get pregnant). I’m 46 now and we’ve been living together for 4 years. He has a girl (13) and a boy (11) from his previous marriage. He never lied about not wanting more children but I naively thought he could change his mind. Of course he didn’t. I technically had the choice of meeting someone else, but It took me 41 years to find someone to be in a relationship with, was I going to be meeting someone else within the year and have a child within the next 2? Not at all likely. I considered doing it on my own (for all I know it might still be possible) but I’m not mega millionaire to pay nannies and a lot of help, and I realised I don’t want to do it alone as I still want to have a life, which would not be possible with a child and no partner. Also, I’m not at all keen to undergo medical/ fertility treatments. Still, I sometimes feel I had/ still have a choice, but did/do I really? (rethorical).

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    • Laura, I totally agree. In theory, you could leave the man you love and hope for a fairy tale ending, but the odds are not good. Only people in our situation understand that. Thank you for commenting.

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