What If Your Partner Dismisses Your Childless Grief?

Does your partner really understand how you feel about not having children? Do they sympathize or tell you to “get over it?”

I got to thinking about this after listening to a podcast about “disenfranchised grief” and childlessness with new Lighthouse Women leader Katy Seppi and Dr. Nisa Darroux. Darroux, who specializes in the subject, made some excellent points. I recommend listening.

Disenfranchised grief happens when other people don’t recognize your loss. To them, it looks like you haven’t actually lost anything. When someone dies, it’s clear. People offer cards, flowers, sympathy, and casseroles and gather around for support. But when it’s ambiguous, like losing the possibility of having children, they don’t know how to relate. With death, you had something and lost it. But with childlessness, well, you never had it.

This is not news to most of us. We’re familiar with people who say things like “why don’t you just adopt?” or “why don’t you . . . ,” with people who tell you it’s your own fault if you don’t have kids, that you must not like kids or want them bad enough, that you didn’t fight hard enough, or the ever-popular “you’re better off not having kids; if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have any.” We have heard the relatives asking when we’re going to get pregnant, making us feel guilty for not producing grandchildren, or comparing us to our siblings who do have children.

Friends say look at my adorable baby pictures, come to the baby shower, or this Halloween party is just for “families.”

People, society, the family don’t acknowledge your right to grief, but what if your partner does not recognize your grief as valid? What if he/she is the one who says, “Aren’t you over that yet?” “We’ll get you a puppy, okay?” “You knew I wasn’t going to change.” “Don’t cry over spilled milk—or spilled sperm?” “Look at all the money we’re saving.” Or, “Hey, I’m the one with the bad sperm/eggs/whatever. What are you crying about?”

You know?

What if your partner does not acknowledge the magnitude of your loss? It seems to me if a person really loves his or her partner, they would do whatever it took to make them happy, including having a child even if they’re not really into it. Maybe that’s stupid because they might be resentful and unhelpful throughout. Or maybe one of those TV miracles would occur and they’d fall in love with the child and wonder why they were ever reluctant.

But I have to ask: How can you love someone who dismisses your tears as foolish or invalid? I was lucky. I think my husband truly felt bad about my grief, although I tried to hide it most of the time. At least he didn’t dismiss it. And he did come with those three offspring for me to stepparent. “I can’t give you kids, but you can share mine.”

What if the one most dismissive of your grief is your partner? I don’t know what to tell you, except to try to make them see how it is for you. The only other possibility is leaving, and I’m not suggesting that. Or am I? I don’t know. Your partner should be the one person you can count on. If you can’t, that compounds the grief, and you shouldn’t have to carry it alone.

All I can say is talk about it, cry about it, yell if you need to. Don’t deny yourself the right to feel what you feel. Acknowledge it and hold it like the baby you didn’t have.

What do you think about this? Please share in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “What If Your Partner Dismisses Your Childless Grief?

  1. A partner should be there to support and understand… though he doesn’t feel the same. I get told I am exaggerating for wanting a child at my age.

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  2. My husband is terrible at empathy unless it’s his son. (Even the 2 daughters don’t get the empathy the son gets.) So for the me disenfranchised grief starts at home, flows to the stepkids and then my own family with my Mom at the top of the list of my own family who has little to no sympathy or empathy for my infertility. I tried to find a counselor (before the pandemic) but the closest I could get was a counselor with stepkids. She had 2 kids and 2 steps. I think infertility counseling is more obtainable now. Thank God for online support. God used online support and a few books to help me know I’m not completely losing it. At least I know He cares. Thank you again Sue for another powerful post.

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  3. An interesting topic. My husband carries guilt because he was so problematic during the early part of our marriage. Alcoholism, in some families, is a normal way of life and nothing to cry over either. But we sorted it out and now live a beautiful sober life. I sometimes cry because I’m momentarily sad that our life didn’t fall into place like many other peoples’ have. I won’t be a mother. I will have to HOPE that a niece or nephew will help me out when the time comes. Or my friend’s son. Sometimes I cry because a mom somewhere said something careless and it just hurt a little too much. That doesn’t mean I hate my life – I’m just, sometimes, sad.

    And I’m not blaming him. I wasted time in a first marriage. I allowed the alcoholism to linger in my current marriage. I was a door mat and an indecisive person almost my whole life. Not exactly mother material, but I didn’t do anything to change it. Early on, I shopped too much while trying to feel better and debt followed. Not terribly but, you know, all these things add up and I own it.

    But my husband only feels guilt when I cry and, even though he’s usually strong, sweet, and supportive, he gets very defensive. A hug and a few nice words would help me, but he can’t seem to do it. We’re not sharing the pain like we should. I’m putting it out there, and he feels I reject the very happy life we’ve built.

    My solution is to post here. Or call a friend. Or, if I really feel bad, tell my husband I’m feeling sad and I need to take a walk on my own. Usually when I return, he’s happy that I’m back and even if he’s not saying EXACTLY the thing I’d like to hear, I see his efforts and that is everything.

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