They stayed in a childless marriage

Last week I asked the question “Did They Go or Stay?” Several readers responded. In general, they stayed. The one who left her marriage indicated that the marriage was not good in other ways.

Are they happy?

Kat: “Stayed in a very happy relationship. Found out last year that I couldn’t have had kids anyway, and needed surgery. Phew, glad I stayed.”

Tamara: “I knew that he was special and that I would never find someone that I loved as much as I love him. I still wish we had a child, but in the end I know that an unknown child could not give me the feeling of love nor could it complete me as much as my marriage does.”

M2L: “I have stayed, for now, and have watched my ‘childbearing years’ disappear. It is hard not to be resentful of a man who is now enjoying a grandchild. We shall see how it all works out!”

Jay: “I stayed, believing that God wouldn’t bless my leaving.
“We’d both wanted children before we got married. A few years in he changed his mind.
“My yearning has been powerful.
“I’ve forgiven him — over and over, as I continue to grieve unchosen childlessness.
“Now it’s too late for me to have children. I struggle with anger toward myself for staying. Anger towards his unkindness in expressing enthusiasm for other women’s pregnancies, his being baffled at why this could be troubling for me.
“His lack of concern for my lost dream compounds the pain.
“I often wish I had left, as the refusal to have children was only one part of the unhealthiness in our marriage. Still continuing to evaluate whether to stay in this marriage.”

Please keep the responses coming. We’d really like to know what happened, especially if you decided to leave.

I think most of us will not leave a marriage that is otherwise good. When I divorced my first husband, it was not because of his refusal to have children. I still believed we could work that out eventually. No, I had found out he was cheating on me and had been for most of the six years we were married. That’s what I found intolerable.

The men I dated between marriages were all willing to father my children, but none of them would have been good husbands. In fact, they would have been terrible. Then I met Fred, and he was so wonderful I was willing to spend my life with him, no matter what. I wanted children but not at the sacrifice of a good relationship. And I did get a sort of “motherhood lite” with the stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

Which is more important, finding the right partner or having children? That seems to be the essential question. We shouldn’t have to choose, but if we do, which way would you go? I look forward to your comments.

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Update: Two weeks ago, I wrote about rushing to California to help my father, who broke his leg. His leg is still unusable, and he spends most of his time in bed. It was a bad break, above the knee, and he will be 95 on May 1. Except for the leg, he’s in surprisingly good shape, but we don’t know when the care home where he’s staying will decide to discharge him and force us to find another facility or full-time care for him at home (could be this week!) or if he will ever be able to walk normally again. So keep him in your prayers, and thank you for the kind words so many have sent.

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Should you gamble on a partner who says he or she doesn’t want children?

Back in my grandmother’s day, things were pretty simple. You grew up, got married and had babies. Period. No birth control. No legal abortions. No vasectomies or tube-tieing. The only people who didn’t have children, aside from priests and nuns, were the ones who were physically unable. And everyone pitied them. “Oh poor Aunt Martha, she couldn’t have children.”

There was no choice, no changing of minds, no “do you want to have children?” “Let’s wait until we have more money” or “I don’t think I want to have children.” People just had babies, and if it made their lives more difficult, if taking care of the kids meant sacrificing something else you would have liked to do, tough.

Sometimes I wish we were still back in those days. With all the sex my first husband and I had, I’d have at least three children now, maybe more because we might not have gotten divorced. I’d still be attached to a husband who drank too much and didn’t believe in monogamy. Instead, we split up, and I married Fred, who was the best husband ever, except for not wanting to have children with me. Did it turn out for the best? I think so.

Every day I receive comments from readers struggling with the baby question. In many cases, they and their partners completely agreed when they got together about having or not having children. Then either one of them changed their minds or one of them proved to be unable to make babies. And now they don’t know what to do. They’re broken-hearted. They’re talking about breaking up, but they’re still in love and don’t know if they’ll ever find a better mate. I don’t know what to tell them. Things happen. People turn out to be infertile. People who said they didn’t care about having children suddenly realize that they can’t bear living their entire lives without experiencing motherhood or fatherhood. People who thought they wanted children discover they really don’t.

What it comes down to, I think, is making a commitment to another person and sticking to it, no matter what. Relationships are a gamble. Marriage is a gamble. He/she might die, might get sick, might get fired, might not be able to get pregnant, might decide he’d rather have a puppy. People change their minds. If you truly love that person, you don’t leave when things get tough. You talk it through and find the best solution for both of you. When it comes to having children, if one wants them and one doesn’t, somebody’s going to get hurt. So the question it always comes down to is: Is this person worth taking a chance?

What do you think? Please post your comments. I’m running out of answers.