‘Childless by the Marriage I Love’

Today, we have a guest post by Darinka from Hungary.

“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world.

To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

I like the story of The Little Prince, especially when the Fox tells this to the little boy. Reminds me of the “name it to tame it” approach that can help many times to settle our fears and heavy feelings. I set out for my journey of taming (and naming) my fox (or I could call it my monster) of childlessness three years ago when after seven years of marriage I learned that my husband didn’t want kids.

We live in an Eastern-European country, started our life together with very little means. We moved from one rented place to another, never feeling really settled. We both worked long hours, yet we didn’t feel financially safe enough to start a family. The topic did come up a few times over the years, but we felt the same way, that it was not the time yet.

Three years ago, we finally moved into our own home, which was a huge step for us. Now we were in our perfect little two-bedroom house on the edge of a small village by the woods. We now had the room and financial stability, so just after we moved, I felt it was time. My husband disagreed. We had to face that there are deeper reasons behind us not having kids than just financial ones. We started to go to counseling and found out more about our deeper reasons. My husband had a distant father who spent most of his life in severe depression, in and out of jobs, spending years in almost total silence and withdrawal. My husband was 17 when his youngest brother was born. He was an emotional crutch for his mum for many years, sharing the worries and troubles of his four siblings. So, my question of “Shall we have kids?” did not come to him as a sweet, exciting plan for life, more like another kilometer after a thousand-kilometer-long journey…no, no, not another one. 

A year after this, we decided to go for a puppy. My hopes were raised because I thought this meant we were making progress. We read books on how to bring up a puppy. Watched programs. Equipped the small bedroom, and so we brought home the sweetest black and white greyhound of six weeks. After three days, I sensed something was wrong. After five days, we both knew. My husband showed clear symptoms of burnout. He could not sleep, could not enjoy any of it, felt absolutely exhausted and depressed. He had such a strong physical and emotional reaction to caring for this little newcomer that finally it reached not only my mind but my heart, that this may be more serious than I thought, this may be permanent. We took the puppy back after a week. Cleared all her things. Packed up and went away for a few days because we couldn’t stay in the house. This sweet little puppy found a way to us. Showed my husband that he can’t accept the father within himself, showed me that I may never become a mum. She has opened a channel for my tears and sorrow. I cried for about six months. We shared many feelings, anger, fears, disappointment, hopelessness. But despite of all this (or because of all this), we moved closer to each other; our marriage became stronger.

I wanted to accept my husband’s feelings and decision. I read a lot, searched the web, joined groups, but couldn’t find a name for my monster. I deeply felt for those who struggled with fertility issues, but I didn’t. My brother and his wife were trying for a baby for seven years, my brother-in-law and his wife the same. We couldn’t really share our struggles with them. I couldn’t identify with those who are childfree by choice either. I am definitely not one of them. I felt it was neither my decision nor my medical circumstance, but what was it then?

I am still struggling with feeling the pressure of meeting others’ expectations, some guilt as I believe children are gifts from God. I find it difficult to say no to them, fear for the future. But I also know that the last thing I would want for my kids is for them to be unwanted by one of their parents. I’ve been there, I grew up like this, and I know it’s not a happy place. This is why I can’t follow advice like: just do it, no need to be ready, don’t worry, men usually want children less than women, just say you want it. Well, I can’t.

So, you see, it’s not only my husband; it’s me too. I am being loved and accepted by my husband. I feel it and I let myself enjoy this. I may still not feel wanted (that is too deep a wound to heal quickly), but I already know that I am.

Slowly a name is forming after all: I’m childless by marriage . . . and lately it seems less scary and less painful because I’m childless by not any marriage . . . but the marriage I love.

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Thank you, Darinka, for filling in for me this week. I am deep into the final proofreading for the new book, Love or Children, coming very soon.

I you want to contribute a guest post to the Childless by Marriage blog, see the information in the sidebar.

How do you begin to heal from childless grief?

Grief. My 2007 post about childless grief has been the most clicked and commented on over the last seven years. Readers continue to pour out heartbreaking stories about being denied the chance to have children and finding the loss unbearable. They write, “I don’t know what to do.” “I can’t go on.” “My heart is breaking.” I tell them I’m sorry. I tell them I’m praying for them. I urge them to find someone to talk to, whether it’s a friend, family member, or therapist. I tell them to keep talking with their spouse; don’t hurt in silence.

The pain is real. The loss is real. You are trying to figure out how to live without the family and the life you thought you would have. It’s not just the children. It’s not just grandchildren and descendants through the ages. It’s also a way of life, an identity as a mother or father, an experience that most people have and you never will.

How do you begin to heal? What do you do with this pain? A reader recently suggested that I write about this. In the next few posts, we will look at ways to heal. Even if you do eventually have children, you won’t forget the years when you thought you never would, so healing is needed.

The stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross can be applied here: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial: He’ll change his mind. We’ll do IVF. I’ll get pregnant by accident. She’s 43, but it’s not too late. We all do this. We think a miracle will happen, and we will have a baby. While we’re waiting for that miracle, our lives are passing us by.

Anger: It’s his/her/God’s fault, and I am so pissed. He cheated me out of my chance to be a mother. She’s too selfish to give me the children I always wanted. I never should have married this @#$%. I’m an idiot. And God, you suck.

Bargaining: I’ll let him get his degree/sports car/trip to Europe, and then we’ll get pregnant. If I get a second job, she’ll change her mind. If we move to Cleveland, which I hate, he’ll let us have a baby.

Depression: I am so sad I can’t go on. I want to have babies. I want them so bad I die every time I hear about somebody else having a baby. My friends and my sisters are all having kids, and I feel so left out. They just don’t understand. Nobody understands. I’m never going to have children, and my life is ruined.

Acceptance: They say you have to hit bottom before you can start working your way out of your troubles. One day, you will begin to see that although you don’t have children, life has many other good things to offer: a partner who loves you, great food, blue skies and green trees, work you enjoy, a house you love, hobbies, friends, God. You realize lots of other people do not have children and live happy, successful lives, and you can, too. You still wish you had children, but life goes on whether you’re a parent or not.

As anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one knows, we don’t progress through the stages of grief in a straight line. One day you’re feeling acceptance; the next day you’re back at depression or anger or denial. I still feel sad sometimes, and sometimes I cry and punch things because I’m furious at how my life worked out. But the acceptance grows with time until it becomes your usual mood.

In coming posts, we will look at alternate life plans, ceremonies and rituals to let go of grief, and more steps to take toward healing.

Please forgive me if my posts are not quite on time this month. I’ve been in California taking care of my father, who broke his hip, and there is no WiFi at his house. But I will not desert you. You are all in my thoughts and prayers as we heal together.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick