Guest Post: Natascha Hebell Shares Her Story

Readers: In response to my invitation to share stories, I received this piece from Natascha Hebell, PhD, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. Although she’s not exactly childless by marriage, much of what she says applies to all of us.

We were so looking forward to having children! As soon as we got married, we expected to be pregnant right away because we were both young and healthy.

Well, it just never happened…

Disbelief and disappointment month after month, year after year. Hidden tears, suppressed anger, feelings of shame, hurt and envy and feeling utterly alone, unheard and completely invalidated about my feelings of loss, grief and distrust in my body and my life.

I just kept on “counting my blessings” and “getting over it.”

In my early 40s, I had a real midlife crisis. I asked myself: Why am I even here? What is my life’s purpose?

During my infertility journey I discovered acupuncture and I always felt so at peace afterwards. That prompted me to change my career in my 40s. I had a background in scientific research and business development, but I did a complete 180 as far as medical principles are concerned. I was able to graduate and get my national board certification as acupuncturist in record time, and I founded a very successful acupuncture clinic.

I have been able to help many people with their health concerns from a natural and holistic perspective. I love that I am able to share my nurturing and caring nature with my clients.

Looking back, I realized that I was overcompensating for my perceived failure as a wife and mother by being a perfectionist and overachiever.

Once I established my acupuncture practice, I continued further studies in integrative medicine and many different certifications to the point of exhaustion. I had a profound aha moment when I was participating in a “soul-story” exercise. I realized that I had never truly processed my childlessness. I had not allowed myself to grieve, accept and move forward in a healthy way.

I had tucked the grief and despair away. It did not exist for anyone that I knew, and so I subconsciously did not truly acknowledge my emotional pain. And I had done a pretty good job with that because only occasionally would I feel extremely sad and weepy when seeing little children, seeing young families and finding out about my friends and family getting pregnant and celebrating kids’ birthdays.

When I became an acupuncturist, I avoided treating infertility cases and women expecting children. I could just not handle it from an emotional perspective. I would treat women that were getting ready for IVF and especially for treatments before and after the transfer (with a 100% success rate!) and they agreed to see another acupuncturist who specialized in pregnancy and postpartum.

One month, two of my patients came in for their pre-IVF transfer treatments in tears. They said: It is my last chance to get pregnant and I am so anxious. They were sobbing, they were feeling guilty for not having given their parents grandchildren, for letting their partner down; they felt shame because they thought that they hadn’t tried hard enough.

It touched me to the core because I saw how much they were hurting even though they had dedicated months going through the difficult process of IVF treatments and they were exhausted physically, mentally and financially.

This was an important moment for me because I realized that I needed to speak up. It is okay to NOT have children. My life is rich and wonderful, and I have been able to leave a positive impact on so many people’s lives, something that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had children.

So that prompted me to start sharing my story from the perspective of someone who is in her 50s. This has been eye-opening to me. There are so many women, especially in their 50s, 60s and older, who have never been able to share their grief and their story. Also, many younger women who are childless want to hear from my perspective and get some help.

I do hope that I can give inspiration, hope and courage to women whose heart aches because their dream of a child has not been granted in this lifetime. I can be found online at The Golden Sanctuary and a free FB group (Beyond Infertility and Unintended Childlessness)

Thank you, Natascha! As always, readers, your comments are welcome.

Does Being Childless Make Us Feel Unworthy?

Dear friends,

Last week I attended many online events offered during World Childless Week, put on by folks in the UK. They did a fabulous job, and I hope some of you had an opportunity to tune in. If not, the recordings are available at the website. Speakers included many familiar authors and bloggers from the childless community, including Jody Day, Michael Hughes, Kate Kaufmann, and others I enjoyed getting to know. In coming weeks, I will be exploring several topics covered in the webinars.

A couple of things kept coming up, and I want to discuss them with you. Several of the speakers mentioned “coming out” as childless. We’re all familiar with the usual meaning of this, when someone who is gay or lesbian discloses that fact to family, friends, and the world. But here, it was used for telling people about their childless state. And maybe how they feel left out among their mom and dad peers. Is this something that we need to announce? Do we try to hide it? To “pass” as parents? Don’t those who matter already know, and as for the rest, it’s none of their business? Is it that there comes a moment when we know it isn’t going to happen and we feel the need to tell people because otherwise they assume we have kids? I don’t know. What do you think?

Another thing that came up quite a bit was “worthiness.” We had guided meditations and panel discussions on the topic. We chanted, “We are worthy.” Some of us, especially women, but also men, may feel that we are worthless because we haven’t had children. We may push ourselves to excel at work or in other areas to make up for our childlessness. Do you ever feel that way? I know that I tend to work round the clock and don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working, but is this because I’m childless and trying to make up for something?

Karin Enfield de Vries, operations director at Gateway Women, cautioned against identifying solely as childless. “My childlessness is part of me; it doesn’t make up all of me. I have so much more to offer.”

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and a psychologist, said we tend to draw our worthiness from other people’s view of us, but we have to take our worthiness back from other people’s opinions. Childlessness is only one aspect of who we are.

As someone noted in the comments, some of us make our work the definition of who we are. I wrote it down because I do that. I am all about work, both the writing and the music, because what else am I? A dog-mom, sister, friend to many, but what else? With my parents and husband gone and no kids, I guess I need to work on that. Or do I? Maybe the real answer is to convince myself I am already enough, that I am worthy and I don’t have to justify it. And neither do you.

I’m going to sign off. We’re having a huge storm with such strong wind I expect to see Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz flying by any minute. But I ask you: 1) Do we need to “come out?” How? When? Why? 2) Do you feel worthy? Why or why not?

See you in the comments.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Can You Be Both Childless and Childfree?

One of the speakers at a World Childless Week webinar that I watched yesterday, Les Finneman, introduced himself as “childless some days, childfree others.”

I had never heard anyone say that before, but if I’m being completely honest, I feel the same way, childless some days, childfree others. Some days it breaks my heart that I never had children. I want to cuddle my babies, teach and take care of my older children, watch my teens grow into adults who contain parts of me and their father. I want to applaud at their graduations and cry at their weddings. I want to shower my grandchildren with love and gifts and guide their little fingers on the piano keys. When I need help in old age, I want them to . . .

I know, I know. They might not be there. Last week I sat in the ER with my friend for seven hours (she’s going to be okay). She has grown children and grandchildren, but they’re all far away. “Sue and I just have each other,” she told the doctors and nurses.

Yes, I feel childless much of the time. I am missing something important in my life, grieving that I don’t have children, hating that I’m different from four out of five women.

BUT sometimes I am just fine with my non-mom status and the freedom it gives me. Fewer people to worry about. Freedom to write, play music, and travel. Freedom to spend money on whatever I want or need instead of saving it for my children and grandchildren. Freedom to walk away from the toddler wreaking havoc at the grocery store and be grateful I don’t have to deal with that.

Child-free. I didn’t choose not to have children, but there is freedom in it. I feel guilty for saying so, but sometimes I like that freedom.

Do you ever feel kind of glad you don’t have children? It’s okay to admit that you’re sad about it one day and a little happy the next. Life is not black and white, and neither are our feelings.

The webinar Finneman spoke at, about the childless network he and colleagues created at the University of Bristol, was part of the UK-based World Childless Week. I really should have alerted you sooner, but I didn’t realize there was so much to it. They are having webinars every day. Many are at times that don’t work for me here in Oregon. 2 a.m.? But all the sessions are being recorded, and you can watch them for free. Today the theme is aging without children. Tomorrow they’re offering the male point of view. Sessions go on through Sunday. It’s quite miraculous that we can attend these events from all over the world. Visit the website for the schedule and give it a go, as the Brits might say.

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The new “best of Childless by Marriage” book, actually titled Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, is currently with the designer, who will pretty up the pages and design the cover. I hope to show you a picture soon.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Closing the Door:  Bipolar Disorder and Motherhood 

 Happy Wednesday! Today I offer you an essay by a poet friend who is also childless. This piece previously appeared in an online literary journal called Quiet Storm. As you will see, there are many different ways we can end up not having children. In her note to me, Sherri said that when she told her father she would not be able to have children, he responded, “Get yourself a dog. Dogs are more loyal.” Which they are, but that’s not the point. As always, please feel free to comment.

By Sherri Hope Levine

Sherri Levine I have been grieving over the loss of a dream for many years. The feelings of profound emptiness and sorrow have overwhelmed me. I have always wanted to have a child, and I knew that I would make a wonderful mother. I would break the cycle of critical voices that played a big part of my childhood. Ideally, I would be a loving, nurturing, and accepting parent.

Whenever I see a mother and a child holding hands in the park, or a mother strolling her baby with other mothers, or watch my sister read Harry Potter to her son, I cry out: “Why not me? It’s not fair!” I tell myself to try to move on with my life—to remind myself that I have a loving and supportive partner, family, and friends, that I have a rewarding job teaching English to immigrants and refugees, that I am a passionate and published writer. But is this enough?  Do these things take the place of being a mother? Is this the dream? Is this something I have been dreaming about my whole life?

My mental health has suffered tremendously from bipolar disorder, a chronic mental illness. During my teenage years, I endured severe depression and was hospitalized due to suicide attempts. In my twenties, a psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant, and I immediately shot into a full blown manic and psychotic episode. I was living with my mother at the time. While in a heightened state, I impulsively packed all my belongings and took the train from New York to San Francisco. While living there, I was reckless and impulsive. I slept with many men, spent most of my money, and I lost a lot of weight. When my dad found out I was calling my grandma in the middle of the night to tell her I was an artist and model, he flew me home.

What I didn’t know is once you are committed to a mental hospital, you cannot leave. I didn’t believe this. I thought for sure after I got stabilized, I could leave. At first, the doctors figured out the right combination of medications, and I got better. But then I became depressed. Why was I still there if I was better? I had a tough time coping in there because I saw many sick patients, a lot worse than me. The only way “out” of there was to write. I found poetry. The staff allowed me to sit in an empty room with a computer. And that is what saved me. That was my escape. The staff recognized that I was well enough to take day passes out of the hospital. They came up with a plan for me to attend classes at a local liberal arts college. I worked closely with some very fine poets. My writing improved, and I became a student there. I even graduated without any of my classmates knowing that at the end of the school day, my ride had been a shuttle that took me to a locked mental facility on the outskirts of town.

After I graduated, my friends had moved away, and my sister had relocated to Seattle.  I wanted to live near her, so I moved to Portland, Oregon. Little by little, things started to improve again. I took my medication, entered a master’s degree program, and got my first job as an English teacher at Portland Community College, where I have taught for almost twenty years. I was finally stable, happy, and productive.

After months of rest and recuperation, I felt strong again.  I was ready to settle down, get married. I married a man twelve years younger than me. Another impulsive decision! Then I found out that he didn’t want children.  He didn’t even like children. I was so upset because I knew if I was stable, I could have children. I did everything I was supposed to do to prepare myself for motherhood.  I took my medication, continued my teaching job, ate well, and exercised vigorously. I remember talking to my doctor about medication and pregnancy.  It was a risk, he said, but I would be monitored carefully. Still, my husband wasn’t interested in having children or having sex. He finally did give in, and we tried to get pregnant for a year, but something was wrong. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting pregnant.  By then, my husband had become increasingly withdrawn from me. He stayed at work late, and when he came home, we hardly ever spoke. I was devastated. I wasn’t a mother and my marriage was falling apart. I felt empty.

My husband and I split up. I was alone, without a child. By then, I was in my 40s, and it was too late for me to conceive. I thought about adoption, but I was single, so I knew it would be difficult to raise a child on my own.

Many people can tell you to move on, but it does not help. Letting go is part of the grieving process. Losing someone is the most difficult part of life. I believe that raising a child with a mother who has a chronic mental illness would not be fair to the child or to my family.  It would put a heavy burden on all of us.

I have thought about what it would be like if I did choose to be a mother. I might have to stop taking my medication during the first trimester. This risk could cause me to become manic or depressed. Then, after I gave birth, sleep deprivation could also cause an episode. Who would take care of the baby? My husband who was absent most of the time? My 80-year-old mother? My sister who lives in another city? If I became ill, would I be in the hospital loaded with medication? Would the court take away my child?

Some dreams do not come true. I have had to close the door on the dream of being a mother. It doesn’t mean I don’t still grieve, but the intensity of grieving has waned. I have learned to accept the reality of my situation. I put my efforts into my art and my writing. My work has been published in various journals, and I have been hired to be a poetry editor of a literary magazine. I have a loving partner who has a young son. My friends and family are all around me. I realize that embracing loss is embracing life. As I close the door on my dream, other doors will continue to open.

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Sherri Hope Levine is a poet, artist, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. She received the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize and Oregon Poetry Association’s Poet’s First Prize (Poet’s Choice). Her poetry and other writings have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including CALYXThe Timberline ReviewPoet LoreThe Jewish Literary Journal, and Mizmor Anthology. She founded and hosts Head for the Hills—a monthly poetry series and open mic. Her first book, In These Voices, was published in 2018 by The Poetry Box. She escaped the harsh weather of upstate New York and has been soaking in the Oregon rain ever since.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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Notice anything different about the blog? Yes, the puppy picture is gone. As I polish the “Best of Childless by Marriage” book–and as WordPress makes changes in the formatting software–it seemed like time. I’m still working on making the header type more visible. What do you think of the new look so far? 

Reader Caught in Childless by Marriage Dilemma

   

Readers,

I received this email from “Kristin” over the weekend. At her request, I am sharing it with you. What do you think? What would you do?–Sue

My husband and I have been married about eight months, but were together nearly eight years before we were married. To fully tell this story, I feel like I have to go back in history a little because a portion of our eight-year relationship we spent apart. That breakup was because I was sure I DID want kids and he was (and always has been) sure he did NOT. To be honest, I can’t really say how we came back together, other than we did.

He is my very best friend. I think when we got back together and decided to get married a few years later it was because I genuinely thought I could compromise. I knew he didn’t want kids, and several more years had passed where I’d seen one sibling suffer through a stillbirth and another’s infertility leading to divorce. I rationalized that both of these things were just more examples that you shouldn’t choose a mate based on a desire to have children because “there are no guarantees” in life. I wanted to marry someone because I loved him and didn’t depend on all the “extras” in life.

What I could not have predicted was that by loving someone, building a life with him, and experiencing an even deeper love in this commitment than I had before, I developed a stronger desire to have a child. All of this became very apparent when he scheduled an appointment to have a vasectomy. I felt fine with it until, I didn’t. It hit like the worst wave of depression and devastation I’ve ever felt. We talked about it, and he agreed to cancel the appointment, but ever since then, it has been brewing just under the surface. He doesn’t say it directly, but he alludes to me trying to trap him into pregnancy, frequently saying we are “playing with fire.”

I should add that we have been pregnant once—more of a chemical pregnancy than anything—enough to be positive on a pregnancy test, and then I got my period. It was actually just before we were married and was one of the worst fights we’ve ever had. I know you could say I “shouldn’t have married him” if I knew that, but it didn’t change the fact that I love him. Even the antagonistic child-hating part of him. I can’t lie and say some part of me didn’t subconsciously think that time or a miracle from the Lord would change his mind. I think I also sort of have a false hope because he didn’t go through with the vasectomy yet. Like, he loved me enough to compromise on delaying it and then more false hope came about.

Today we are arguing again—and I am depressed, again. He will list all of the logical reasons why he doesn’t and has not ever wanted a child, and I will fail to articulate my emotions—because that’s all I can say it is now, a feeling. What I guess I wonder is: Will this pass? Is my love for my spouse enough to carry me, to carry us through this “fear of missing out” and whatever else may be rolled up into my desire to have a child right now? I am thankful for the solidarity of knowing that other people experience this, too, but it feels so painful that this is undeniably such a divisive thing. I don’t know how I won’t resent him at some point if I continue to feel this way, and yet a life without him isn’t something I want either. 

HELP

–Kristin 

Well, this is the crux of our “childless by marriage” problem. She wants kids; he does not. She loves him, he loves her, but neither is likely to change their mind. What do they do now? I know many of you have been there, done that. Me too, but my situation was different because Fred was older, a father of three, and he’d already had the vasectomy. I stayed with him, and I’m not sorry. But what advice do you have for Kristin?

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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After more than 700 posts and with a new best-of-the-blog book coming, I am making some changes. I am using a new “header” image, but having troubles with it. The glitches will be fixed ASAP. Meanwhile, stay tuned.

What if We Smashed the Biological Clock?

What if age was not a factor in whether or not to have a baby? What if you could have a baby any time in your life, so there was no pressure to do it before you got into your 40s? How would you feel about your childless-by-marriage situation then? What would you do differently?

No, I don’t know of a new way to postpone menopause. But let’s think about this for a minute.

Last night I listened to a podcast titled “Baby Making and the Fear of Missing Out,” the Aug. 8 episode in a series called “First Time Moms Beyond 35,” hosted by Isabel Prosper. We might not want to listen to most of the episodes because they get into having babies, parenting, and all that stuff we childless people are not doing. But this one really spoke to me.

Guest Courtney Shane, who is an actress, is 43. After several relationships with women and a busy career that made her feel she didn’t have time for motherhood, she married a younger man five years ago and started thinking about having children. At age 40, when she mentioned it to her then-gynecologist, the female doctor laughed and informed her that her chances were poor. Her bedside manner was so bad Shane found a new doctor, a man who encouraged her to go ahead and try.

She had her IUD removed and has started a regimen of daily ovulation checks. But she admits she’s still not sure about her desire to have a baby. The timing is not good. Because of the pandemic, work is scarce, and she doesn’t feel ready. But it’s now or never. “If I was 33, I wouldn’t be trying, no way,” she admits.

In an effort to find others who are feeling like she feels, she went online and found lots of wanna-be mothers trying to conceive. She had to search harder to find women who would admit they were not certain they wanted to do this but the biological clock was counting down the minutes until it would be too late. Once she confessed her own feelings, others began to admit they feel the same way. Shane is still looking for people who want to talk about this situation. She invites us to connect with her on Instagram or Facebook at @itscourtneyshane.

Perhaps because she is an entertainer, this 23-minute podcast was really fun to listen to, but it also addresses an important issue for us here at Childless by Marriage. How does age factor into our situations and our decisions?

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We have received some great responses to last week’s guest post. You can read them here. Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Are You Settling Too Soon for a Childless Life?

The other day, I listened to a podcast by dating coach Evan Marc Katz titled “8 Red Flags That Should Send You Running from a Man.” In this episode, childlessness is only a small part of the discussion, but Katz brought up an issue I think we need to talk about here. And that is people, women or men, who settle for partners who are less than ideal because they feel like they have to, that they will never find anybody else who will love them. Some have low self-esteem. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m too old. Others figure this relationship is THE ONE, when maybe it’s not.

He talks about a woman, Elise, who is a “settler,” who will give up her whole life for a man who is not sure he wants to get married or to have kids, and another woman named Sherry who is so picky nobody measures up to her standards. That’s a problem, too, but for today, let’s stick with the “settlers.” I used to be one of those. I felt like I could only get the loser guys. The cute, popular, smart ones with good career prospects wouldn’t want nerdy me. Oh, I could tell you stories about men I went out with, but I won’t. Let’s just say, if my parents were picking a guy for me, it wouldn’t be any of them.

Nor would it be my first husband, who made a negative impression early on by getting slap-happy drunk at my cousin’s wedding, then quit his job and flunked out of college. . . Then there was that time he sat in the car rather than visit my beloved grandfather . . . And oh, yeah, he cheated on me and he didn’t want kids. But I thought this was the guy. I had doubts, but I didn’t have the whatever-it-takes to stand up for myself and say, hey, this is not what I want in a husband. And maybe I need to live my own life for a while before settling with a man with whom I have nothing in common, except sex. Yes, I loved him, but he didn’t treat me like a man who loved ME should have, and I knew that. I settled.

It’s funny. I didn’t settle with jobs. I quit an awful lot of jobs, I admit it. My resume is crazy. But I’d get in there, find myself miserable, and say, “Oh, hell no.” I looked for something better. And I found it. Why didn’t I do that with men?

Long afterward, my ex and I agreed we would have had a great affair, but we shouldn’t have gotten married. Unfortunately, nice girls didn’t do that in those days. Which is how so many wound up with men who were less than ideal. But we have choices now. We do. Anyone who wants to marry me in the future would have to be AMAZING. I am not going to settle.

I lucked out with my second husband, Fred. But again, you should have seen who else I dated before he came along.

In comments here over the last 13 years, I have read so many stories of people, mostly women but not all, who gave up everything to be with a guy–home, country, family, career, and yes, dreams of having children. Sure, they were in love, but is that enough? Don’t we have the right to say, “No, let me look around a little more?” We’re so insecure, so afraid of being alone, that we settle. It’s like settling for shoes that don’t fit. They are always going to hurt, no matter how we try to stretch them out.

I’m on your side, but I see people here settling, and the old would-be wise woman in me wants to scream, “No! Don’t settle.”

What do you think? Have you settled? Are you now? Can you see other possibilities? Why not?

Let’s talk about this. Oh, and give this guy’s podcast a listen or just read the transcript at the link. Katz calls him the “dating coach for strong successful women.” He’s entertaining. If you decide to try his services, that’s between you and your computer.

Thinking of Leaving a Childless Marriage? Read This

Dear readers,

I received this email from Victoria last week. It’s such a great story I asked if I could share it with you. Many of you agonize over whether to leave a partner who doesn’t want to have children. Faced with that situation, here is what Victoria did and how it turned out.

I met the love of my life in 2012. I was 30, and he was 37. We didn’t really discuss children too much, but six months after we met, over lunch with friends in France, he casually mentioned he did not want them. At that point, I was devastated. I knew I wanted children, but I had also not ever felt this way about anyone before. We discussed things at length, and he said he would think about whether he might change his mind. The years rolled by. We were so happy, and I couldn’t countenance leaving him.  It seemed so wrong to give up someone I loved so much for the potential of a child that might never exist. The issue came up a few times, though it was always in the back of my mind.  We ended up having some therapy together to try to get some sense of how to navigate life without resentment and guilt building up. Eventually after four years I decided that I could accept and embrace a childfree life if it meant keeping the man I loved.

I read your blog many times, often seeing the same theme: Should you leave the person you love in the hopes that you’ll find someone you love just as much, who also wants children, and you’re both able to have them? That could be a needle in a haystack. I thought I was quite at ease with my decision.

In 2017, we went on a holiday with a group of friends. One of the couples had a one-year-old baby. Watching them together was quite hard, and seeing how my partner reacted to the baby was equally as difficult. He just did not want to be around the baby at all, and it seemed to ruin his holiday. At this point, I had just turned 35. By now, the thought of being childless forever was in my mind every time I went to sleep. I thought about it all the time. Would I regret it? Did I even have any viable eggs left? I’d read so many forums, talked to friends, talked to my own therapist, and I just didn’t know what the right answer was.

One Sunday morning, after quite an emotional night, I made a snap decision to end the relationship at that moment. My desire to have children and my fear about how I would end up hating the man I loved over time became too much. I decided to leave. He understood. There were a lot of tears. Many days, I almost went back, but I didn’t. I thought I would look into having a baby alone. I had lots of tests, and I was lucky that at 35, I had a good ovarian reserve. I decided to give it a year and see if I met anyone. If not, I would go it alone. To be honest, at 35, wanting to meet a single man who was of a similar age who didn’t already have children but wanted them seemed a long shot.

Six months later, I happened to meet a lovely man. He was 36, single, no children, but he mentioned on our first date how much he regretted not having children. Eight months later, he proposed. Two months after that, we decided that as I was now 36 we should consider stopping birth control. A few months after that, I was pregnant. I honestly could not believe it. I spoke to my previous partner to let him know (he was now in a new relationship with someone who did not want children.) He was so happy for me, and said he felt a weight lifted off his shoulders, which was amazing.

In January of this year, I gave birth to my son. He is nearly six months old, and he is so perfect. I look at him every day and can’t quite believe that after all the years of agonizing, I finally have him. Admittedly, motherhood is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I struggled after a very traumatic labor and then dealing with a young baby and the COVID-19 lockdown has not been easy, but everything I went through was worth it for him.

I wondered if my story might help others who are struggling with the stay or go question.  I am not suggesting go is always the right answer, as I think for many people it isn’t, but for me it was.–Victoria

In a followup email, she added:

You reach a point where all of your friends are having kids, pregnant women or people with babies seem to be everywhere and I could hardly stand to look at them. I used to constantly imagine being pregnant, holding my baby etc. It became too much for me, and honestly I think the guilt became too much for him. We are both happier apart, I think, although I will always love him dearly.

We are undecided about another child at the moment after such a traumatic labor and being on the older side. Certainly not until next year if we do decide to but I won’t feel too bad if we don’t or can’t.

Good story, isn’t it? I welcome your comments.

 

Who can you talk to about being childless?

Worry about whether or not you will ever have children is eating you alive. Your spouse/partner refuses to talk about it or gets angry when you mention it. I suppose that’s why so readers seek refuge here. You say: Finally, someone I can talk to. I can’t say these things to anyone else.

I’m glad to provide a place where you can say whatever you need to say and get responses from people who understand, but are you sure there’s no one else in your life whom you can talk to about being childless by marriage?

Looking back on my own life, I didn’t share my concerns. I didn’t want to worry my parents. I didn’t have a sister. While I was married to my first husband, my brother was working full-time and going to law school; kids weren’t on his agenda yet. And my second husband, Fred, was my brother’s friend long before I met him.

I didn’t have the kind of intimate friends I could share this with. In my 20s, I wasn’t that worried about it. There was so much time ahead of us. We were all busy with college and careers.

When I was married to Fred and the prospect of never having children was becoming a certainty, who did I talk to? Not my parents. Not my new sister-in-law, who didn’t understand. Not my brother, who had two children now. I didn’t discuss it with my friends. I could have. Some of them didn’t have children either, but I didn’t share my pain with them. I gave them terse comments: we can’t, I can’t, I have three stepchildren, I hate Mother’s Day . . . I didn’t let them into my grief and worry or my desire to hold a baby and watch it grow into a person.

I have been in counseling off and on throughout my life for depression and anxiety. But honestly none of my therapists have understood what it’s like. They blew off my concerns with easy answers: enjoy other people’s kids, embrace your stepchildren, find other outlets for your energy.

Talk to a priest? Priests are programmed to promote parenthood. Anything less is a sin.

Of course, the person we most need to talk with about this, our partner, is often the most difficult. You tiptoe into the subject, trying not to make him/her angry, trying not to put a kink in your relationship. Nagging doesn’t help (I really, really, really want to have a baby). Neither does silent anger or crying in the bathroom (What’s wrong? Nothing!)

I think we’re embarrassed sometimes to admit that we have this problem with our relationship. We’re afraid of glib answers and misunderstandings. We’re afraid our friends and family will start to hate the person we love. They might urge us to leave him or her. They might start to treat our partner badly. Or they might take his/her side when there shouldn’t be sides, just everyone loving and trying to work things out.

I have a best friend now with whom I can discuss my childlessness, even though she’s a mother and grandmother. She knows how touchy I am about babies, knows I wish I had a family like she does. She has her own family issues, which we discuss freely. But where was she when I was in the thick of it?

I look back now at friends I used to have. I could have talked to them. I should have talked to them. This is an awfully big burden to carry alone, especially if you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking about leaving the relationship because you don’t want to live a life without children.

I have said way more about me than I intended to. What about you? Who in your life can you be totally honest with and talk about your no-baby situation? Do your parents or siblings know how you feel? Is there a friend, an aunt, or a co-worker with whom you can talk it out?

I was just thinking about soap operas. I haven’t watched them for a long time, but it seems the characters have all the heavy conversations that we never have in real life. Sipping wine, their hair perfectly coiffed, they let it all out, weep big TV tears, and hug as the scene fades to a commercial.

Can we do that? What do you think? Is there someone you can talk to, someone you can trust to not blab your secrets or stomp all over your feelings? It’s so important to let it out. The dog is good, but she’s spayed, and she doesn’t speak English.

Let’s talk about talking about it. I welcome your comments.

**************

Next week’s post will be number 700! I’m thinking we should have a party. Details to follow.

Childless? “Here’s What You Should Do”

Dear friends,

I have been working on the “best of the blog” book I’m putting together and decided to put together a section titled, “Why Don’t You . . .” with posts about the various things people suggest we do to ease our childless angst. For example:

  • Who hasn’t heard, “Why don’t you just adopt?” Or “You could become a foster parent.” We all have. Of course, that totally ignores the fact that if your partner doesn’t want your own children, why would he want someone else’s. Also, adoption and fostering are not easy, and not everyone can meet the requirements. Sure, we have all heard beautiful adoption stories where everything worked well, but we have also known people who waited years through one disappointment after another or who got turned down flat for some reason.
  • Most childless women with reluctant husbands have also been urged to accidentally-on-purpose forget to use their birth control and surprise their mates with, “Oops, I’m pregnant.” I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do to someone you love, but well-meaning people told me that, and I know others have heard it, too.
  • “You should look into IVF, donor eggs or sperm, or fertility treatments of some sort.” As if you never thought of that. Maybe you’re already doing it and prefer not to talk about it. Unfortunately, all the science in the world cannot guarantee a baby, and it costs a fortune. Think one Mercedes for each procedure.
  • “Oh, he can just get that vasectomy reversed.” Well, sometimes. It doesn’t always work, especially if the original surgery was performed years earlier, and if he doesn’t want to get the vasectomy reversed, you’re stuck.
  • “Just relax. God will send you a baby in due time. Look at Abraham and Sarah in the Bible.” Yeah, they were a bazillion years old, and there was an angel involved.
  • “Volunteer to work with kids. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Tutor, mentor, babysit.” Not the same. Sometimes it just makes you feel worse.
  • “Just enjoy your stepchildren. That’s all the kids you need.” Um, no.

That’s what I have come up with so far. I welcome you to add to the list of “Why don’t you . . .” comments you have gotten from friends, family, and well-meaning strangers.