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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16 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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    • That’s unbelievable. The two people are married. The marriage went ahead. How could a family not support what’s already taken place? This makes me angry. I would have certainly left. It’s very disrespectful to the wife. Parenthood is my number one goal in life, always had been and the longer you wait, the more important it becomes. Other people outside that union shouldn’t be allowed to influence the marriage. Each person should be putting each other first, not other people. She had her child and he let her stop him having his own. It’s completely insane. I don’t know how you stayed. I would have run out of love for someone this juvenile. He should have stood up for his wife.

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    • That’s unbelievable. The two people are married. The marriage went ahead. How could a family not support what’s already taken place? This makes me angry. I would have certainly left. It’s very disrespectful to the wife. Parenthood is my number one goal in life, always had been and the longer you wait, the more important it becomes. Other people outside that union shouldn’t be allowed to influence the marriage. Each person should be putting each other first, not other people. She had her child and he let her stop him having his own. It’s completely insane. I don’t know how you stayed. I would have run out of love for someone this juvenile. He should have stood up for his wife.

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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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      • This resonates with me too. My first husband wanted a child but our marriage wasn’t strong and I knew I wasn’t ready for a child. To have had one with him would have been a mistake for all of us.

        I met my next partner in my mid-30s. I really wanted a child but he didn’t and he left me for that reason when I was almost 36. I looked into doing it alone but it felt so huge, so expensive and I knew I’d really struggle on my own.

        I met my second husband at 37. He already had two tweens and didn’t really want more kids but was open to it. Our conversations tended towards the negatives of sleepless nights and having a baby late in life. After having finally found a good life partner, I didn’t want into jeopardise it all for a baby.

        I’m 42 now and have a great life in so many ways. I have a career and hobbies and friendships I wouldn’t have if I had a small child. But I’m full of sadness and longing. I miss being a mother, of watching my children grow in the world. Of having grandchildren and continuing the family line. I have a very small family so after me and my brother (also childless) that’s it. I know why I made the choices I did but now I’d do anything to rewind 5 years. I have only myself to blame.

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  5. In my experience, childlessness by marriage was not a choice. I was very taken aback by that comment, that this is a choice, and then I realized, well, yes, if the man you meet tells you he will never want children right from the start (instead of the opposite), and as you continue dating he stays firm in that decision (instead of changing his mind, then changing it again), and he never cancels multiple vasectomy reversal surgeries, PESA and IVF at the last minute, over a period of many years, then ok. You had choices along the way. Otherwise, it is crushing.

    Often, as in my case, the man who puts you through this already has children from a previous marriage, and he is satisfied. Now, he wants a different lifestyle. He thinks nothing of dragging you along this path, no matter how miserable you are, and of lying to you for as long as it takes until you are too old and you are forced to give up. Don’t count on pity, either. He won’t pity you, and his children won’t pity you. No one will care about your childlessness except you. Are you a fool to let a man manipulate you in this way for years and years? Yes, but it is hardly unique.

    I remember reading a book on childlessness that was divided in chapters supposed to address all the reasons a woman might be childless, and offer words of support and encouragement. Well, my reason was not listed. To all the women who struggle with infertility, I very much sympathize with your situation, but at least, you exist in this book. People recognize and understand your pain, and maybe you are even lucky enough to be partnered with someone who also wanted a family with you – that is true love.

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    • Surreal, thank you for sharing this. You are so right about all of it. One of the reasons I did my book and keep doing this blog about being childless by marriage is that you don’t see in many other places. Most books barely mention it, but it’s real, and no, it does not feel like a real choice in most cases.

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  6. I appreciate your blog. I disagree on this one and it really hurts me when people put it like this. I had people tell me to just leave my boyfriend because he cant have kids! Its incredibly insensitive to suggest betraying someone like that and to suggest one doesn’t grieve the same way because it wasn’t their body. I am in the situation where it’s not my biology that’s not working but that doesn’t mean I have a choice. And even if there was a theoretical choice, it’s between good and evil. A choice between loyalty and cruelty. And is such a choice even a choice? I would rather be infertile myself than have this what-if situation over me and people talking to me so insensitively and talking about my boyfriend behind my back like that. The pressure of family that then say it’s my own fault for “choosing” to stay, boyfriend saying that I should leave. I mean so insensitive and ridiculous. It’s almost like no one wants to spend time hearing out how it hurts from my point of view.

    I was first in a long relationship with a man who postponed and postponed commitment and kids so in a way that was also an almost childless life path but there I DID have a choice. Because the man in question and I didn’t share the same vision of what a good life is, it was his way or the highway on when to have kids. That type of using people on your path, being a solo player in a team sport, stepping over others desires is what I despise the most in people. I remember then I was afraid I would get too old for kids once he was ready or maybe he will finally just say he never wants kids. .. and now I am actually in the situation I feared the most sooner than I ever thought possible (im 29, he 35). But the relationship is good and based on trust and common goals unlike the other so there is no choice but to stay loving and loyal. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I just discarded good people when times got tough.

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    • Tess, thank you for this comment. You are right on. In fact, I’m planning to write something about this in my next post. If you love someone, you don’t dump them because they can’t have children.

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      • But she didn’t say he can’t have kids. She said he has Peter Pan syndrome. That’s a perfectly acceptable reason to leave if you want to be a mother. The two circumstances/desires are incompatible.

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    • You’re only 29. If I had been in this position at 29, I would have found someone else. It’s because of my age and having already lost an ovary why it’s too much of a risk to find someone else. You actually have a chance.

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