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?”
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.
7 thoughts on “What If Your Partner Dismisses Your Childless Grief?”
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.
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.
Thank you for sharing this Silver. I think a lot of readers can identify.
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.
Thank you for sharing this, Anon.
I Hope this ok for a man to ask a question here as I would like some advice. I’m 40 with 2 children. I was married for 12 years with a wife who wanted children until they came along and then took no interest in them. I’ve raised the children myself (and now I’m divorced after she had a 3 year affair) and have devoted my life to them as I always wanted to. I have a highly paid job, highly stressful job (15 hour days are a regular thing for me) and its exhausting juggling being a dad, having a career and having a life. I stayed single for a long time to put my children’s needs first and now I’ve been in a relationship with someone for over a year and she is younger than me (31). When we started dating I was adamant to say I was unsure whether I ever wanted anymore children. Her response was always she always thought about having one child but ultimately having a family was the most important thing and if that family was ready made then it was all she would need or want. I have my own house, etc and when we met she had lost her job, no security and was also about to lose the house she was living in with no way of finding another so more than likely being homeless. I supported her financially and also said she could move in, etc. I’ve given her a standard of life she never thought she would have (her words not mine). she has recently started saying she wants a child and I have said I don’t know if I can do it again. Altought she lives with all the parental responsibilities, jobs are 100% mine and that’s fine because they are my children. She recently gave me the ultimatum of have a child in 2 years or she walks. I said that’s unfair and turned the ultimatum back saying – I love you but if I can’t say yes then she needs to make the decision of if me and my daughters and the life I give her is enough. If not then she should make her own decision and live by it whether it’s with me or not. She always wants me to make the decisions for her. I said I don’t want to be responsible for something she now wants if I can’t give it to her and make her life going forward miserable. I had a health scare recently and now I’m at the point of no I don’t want more kids. My children are getting to the age of young adults and then I can live and experience life again (or the life with her which I honestly thought we both wanted). Something I’ve never been able to do before. I honestly don’t know what to do. I feel like this is hanging over me and making me depressed and anxious. I’m struggling to sleep. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Anonpj and other readers, men are definitely welcome to comment on anything at Childless by Marriage. It’s not just for women. Normally I would not publish something by a person who has children, but this is an interesting look at the other side of the situation. So many of us are or have been in the position of the girlfriend who wants to have her own children with the man who already has his own. What would you say about Anonpj’s situation?