Sometimes childless grief is too much to handle alone

This morning I received an email from a reader who wanted me to tell her how to go on when she’s grieving so hard over not being able to have children that she feels unable to do anything but weep. She’s not the only one. I often receive emails and comments at this blog from people who are truly suffering. All they can think about is the babies they’ll never have. They feel as if they have somehow failed in life, that they don’t know what to do if they can’t be mothers, that they have failed their partners, that the whole world is having babies and they’re alone in this. Some are dealing with physical problems that prevent them from having children. Some have had hysterectomies that make motherhood impossible. Some don’t know why they can’t conceive, but it’s not happening and they’re out of time. Some have tried IVF and failed; others just can’t afford it. Sometimes their partners can’t or won’t give them children. They long to be pregnant, to give birth, to hold their baby in their arms, but it isn’t going to happen, and they JUST CAN’T STAND IT.

Does any of this sound familiar? (You childfree readers who never wanted babies, hold on, be patient, the grief of people who truly want babies and can’t have them is real.)

When I get these messages, I feel so bad. I want to help, but I’m not a therapist or a doctor. I’m just a writer who missed my own chance to have children. Sometimes I still feel terrible about it. Last night I dreamed about my youngest stepson. He was so handsome, and in my dream I wanted so bad to have a connection, but as in real life, it wasn’t there. I have not seen him since his father’s funeral, almost two years ago. It has been longer than that since I saw his older brother and almost as long since I saw their sister. Writing about them in my Childless by Marriage book did not help things, and now my husband is not around to make the connection between me and his kids. I feel as if it’s too late for us. That makes me sad. And when I think about the children I might have given birth to, it’s hard to even breathe.

But I go on, and one of the reasons I can go on is that I got help. I went into therapy with a woman who gave me the tools to deal with my feelings. She let me cry, let me say everything that needed saying, gave me coping mechanisms so I could move on, accept my life as it is and make it better. I also took antidepressants for a few years, and they helped.

There is no shame in seeking therapy if you feel like you just can’t cope. It does not mean you are crazy. It just means you need a little help. Having an impartial person listen to you and let you say whatever you need to say without correcting or giving you advice–“oh, just adopt a child, be a foster parent, be glad you don’t have to deal with a bratty kid, etc.”–helps more than you can imagine. If you had a broken foot, you would seek help immediately, but people tend to think they can heal broken hearts on their own.

Where do you start? Ask for a referral from your doctor, look in the phone book, or search online. In the U.S., you can find listings for your area at I’m sure you can find similar organizations in the UK and other countries. There are various kinds of therapy. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication. Psychologists use non-drug methods. My own therapist uses a combination of medication, hypnosis, talk, biofeedback, art, and whatever else it takes. If the first therapist doesn’t work for you, it’s perfectly all right to find a different one.

I know it’s hard to make that initial phone call, but if the grief feels unbearable, do it. Childlessness is tough, but with help, you can survive and thrive.