When You Take Away Your Partner’s Parenthood Dream

Two weeks ago on the blog, I wrote about Steph Penny’s situation. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The risk of trying to have a baby was so great she and her husband were forced to choose a life without children. In her book Surviving Childlessness: Faith and Furbabies, she wrote about her choice and many other aspects of childlessness.

One of the many passages that struck me in this book talked about how it feels to watch your partner go without children because of your problem. Steph describes that on page 12:

“It hit my husband, too. He had wanted children even more than me, so it affected him greatly. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about that. I still do. I had always thought my husband would make a superb father. Not being able to give him this gift was almost more than I could bear.”

She adds that it was her husband’s idea to dedicate her book to the two children they named but never had.

Guilt. Imagine you have an illness, a fertility problem, a children-from-a-previous-marriage problem or can’t for whatever reason give your partner the children he or she longs for. You hear them weeping when they think you don’t notice. You see them flinch when someone announces they’re having a baby. You see them turning red as they remain seated when all the mothers or fathers are invited to stand for a blessing at church on Mother’s or Father’s Day. You watch them fumble for an answer when strangers ask, “How many children do you have?” or “Hey, when are we going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet at your house?” You see the pain in their eyes when their parents play with their siblings’ children and they will never play with theirs.

Maybe you can’t help the situation. Your physical or emotional problems are not going to go away. You can’t produce sperm or eggs where there are none. All you can offer is to step aside and let your loved one find someone else who can give them children, but if you truly love each other, isn’t that asking too much? Maybe all you can offer is sympathy, a shoulder to cry on, and an explanation to those nosy people who press for answers as to why there are no babies at your house.

I know my husband felt bad. He saw me see-saw between anger and grief and knew it was his fault. He heard me trying to deflect the questions about when I was going to have a baby. He saw me trying so hard to bond with his kids. After his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, before he went deep into dementia, he probably worried about me being alone.

But none of that changed the fact that he had had a vasectomy and was so much older than me that he didn’t want to start over with a baby. Nor did it change the fact that he and his wife had so much trouble conceiving that they adopted their first two children, finally having a bio child after 17 years of marriage. Mostly likely we would have had trouble, too. He couldn’t help it.

He loved me, and he saw how much it hurt. In marrying me, he took away my dream of being a mother. The guilt must have been tremendous. As was my grief. Just yesterday, watching a baby born on a TV show, I sobbed so hard it hurt. After all these years.

We stayed together because the love was greater than the grief or the guilt.

How about you and your partner? Does the one who didn’t want or couldn’t have children feel bad about it? Do you talk about it? What can you do to make it feel better? Is the love strong enough to overcome the other feelings?

I welcome your comments.

Photo by Lukas Medvedevas on Pexels.com

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9 thoughts on “When You Take Away Your Partner’s Parenthood Dream

  1. Sue,

    I’ve seen many marriages and/or relationships like this. It was so hard to watch. I’ve always tried to be happy and upbeat and I take extra caution to talk about having children and parenthood. As I see it, there’s only two solutions. First, accept it and deal with it the best you can. Or let the fertile partner go so they can find someone who can produce children. It’s a really tough situation. And I really don’t know what to do. From what I’ve seen, many of these marriages/relationships don’t last. It’s sad.


  2. I’ve been in the pregnancy loss/infertility field for over 20 years now. I’ve only seen one or two relationships break up – I’ve seen several more weddings, even after infertility or pregnancy loss, when couples wanted to reaffirm their love. The one without the issue seems to want to let the other know that they CHOOSE to be with them. The one feeling the guilt often says that the other should go find someone who can give them children. But the non-guilty party does not choose to go. My husband chose to stay with me in the way you chose to be with your husband. My sister chose to be with her second husband who was older and did not want more children (he already had two at the time.) I think that is beautiful. Yes it’s sad, when two people who love each other can’t agree on what they want, or one member of the couple for some reason can’t help them get what they want. But it is also beautiful, that they commit to each other despite these problems. Don’t you think?


  3. Oh, gosh, Sue, this one is a gut-punch. I was the one who couldn’t guarantee children, and I made the decision before fully committing to my then-boyfriend that if having a family was his dream, I would leave him to find it. I got “lucky” (no one is lucky in these scenarios) when I asked him and he told me he never wanted kids, and we are making a good life as a childless couple. I do know of other couples who split because one wanted children and the other didn’t or couldn’t. My heart goes out to everyone going through this, and to you. I’m so sorry for your losses.


  4. Kathleen,

    You did get very lucky 🍀. I’m glad that things worked out for you. My wife and I were older when we married. She was 45 and I was 42. She has two sons from her first marriage. We agreed to not have children due to our age. It didn’t bother me until her youngest and his then wife had two boys. And when I see them, I’m indifferent. I’ve tried to be the doting grandfather, but they aren’t my flesh and blood so I’ve never bonded with them. And frankly don’t care if I see them again or not. Being a stepfather is an empty, lackluster experience. Many people see this as an evil in me. I’m just being honest.
    God ! Do I hate Father’s Day . I call it national chopped liver day. As you might imagine it’s made for a lot of resentment. That’s the breaks of Marine Air. Skid marks in the sky.


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