Is It It Better to Keep Hoping for a Child or to Move On?

My husband is 23 years older than I am and had a vasectomy 20 years ago, during his first 20+ year marriage. When we initially got together I told him I could not imagine not being a mother someday. I also told him that I was absolutely okay with adoption and that I had never been incredibly attached to the idea of carrying and giving birth to our children.

Cut to several years later. My husband and I went through two rounds of IVF (very begrudgingly on his part). After that, we had an adoption fall through very late in the process. My husband then made his opinion very clear that he was done trying and had absolutely no interest in trying anything further to have a family with me. He unfortunately made it very clear that he was only attempting everything up to this point for my feelings; he never wanted children with me.

My husband is the love of my life and I could not ever imagine spending my life with anyone else. Time has passed and I have acknowledged that children are not in the cards for us. Largely in part from your blog and books, I have realized that there is more to my life than childlessness.

My husband and I were talking yesterday about a coworker who had had a miscarriage (after having one healthy child). I asked, “Is it better to have no hope at all? Or is it better to have hope? Hope that today may be the day?” I often wonder this now that I have in large part accepted the facts in regard to my childlessness. I wonder if it is better to have this hope that your situation will change and that you may finally get what you long for so dearly? Or is it better to have no hope at all about ever having children?

–Lynne

Hope. It can be the thing that keeps you going. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Maybe he’ll change his mind. But how likely is it? When do you give up hope? Are you putting your life on hold just in case things change?

I was looking up quotes about hope last night. There’s a long list at Goodreads.com. I was struck by this one by author William Faulkner: “You cannot swim for the horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

That could be interpreted as: if you don’t let go of the dream of being a parent, you’ll never discover the other wonderful things you could be. Or in the words of UK childless guru Jody Day, you’ll never find your Plan B.

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

Fashion designer Coco Chanel put it more simply: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

And Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are just as many writers who preach holding on to a dream no matter what. Without hope, they ask, what’s the point?

But which will make you happier today, tomorrow or next week? For me, menopause ended my angst over whether I might maybe somehow still be a mother. The baby factory was closed. Before that, while I still had viable eggs, I fantasized about getting pregnant. I had hope. But I was running out of time, and it drove me crazy. Now that the possibility has ended, I feel more at peace. Sometimes I also feel grief or regret, but I often feel that my life turned out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t have babies, but look at all the wonderful things I have had.

Lynne, thank you for sharing your story. It will resonate with many readers.

What about you? Is it better to keep hoping? Does the hope keep you going? Or would it be better to know there’s no hope for that dream, so you could let it go and look for a new dream?

I welcome your comments.

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The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Do You Have to Read This Blog in Secret?

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Last week on a whim, I asked whether Childless by Marriage readers felt they needed to hide their participation in the blog, Facebook page, books, etc. I had just had a vision of a spouse looking at the computer and asking, “Why are you reading this crap?” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

It turns out some of the folks here do have to hide their participation in Childless by Marriage and anything else related to their childlessness. Anon S said it’s her “dirty secret.” Jo, another frequent commenter, said she shares a laptop computer with her husband and can only read Childless by Marriage when he’s not around. She can’t join the Facebook page without him knowing about it.

Holy cow. I don’t know why it took me 738 posts to think of this. I guess I have had the luxury of a private office for so long I forgot that most people don’t have that. I am so sorry.

I have always had my own computer, and my late husband Fred took little interest in what I was doing on it. If I wanted to share something, I called him in or handed him a printed copy. I didn’t start the blog until he was well into Alzheimer’s, so he had no idea. But I’m sure I was journaling and reading about childlessness throughout our marriage. My annual Mother’s Day tantrums were not invisible. I remember him saying “Oh, babe.” That’s all. No further discussion. But I hid most of my tears from him. I didn’t talk much about it with anyone. What good would it do?

Anon S, featured quite a bit in the Love or Children book made from the blog, said she was worried about being found out. She won’t be. Even I don’t know her name or where she lives. With the exception of a few friends from other parts of my life, I don’t know who anybody here really is. All I know is what you tell me, and that’s fine. I want this to be a safe space.

Last week, I attended the first Childless Collective Summit. Most of the speakers talked about infertility. Our main focus here is on our problems with partners who can’t or won’t make babies with us. I feel bad for those with both kinds of problems. I can’t imagine your pain.

Some aspects of childlessness are common to us all—grief, feeling left out, dealing with rude questions, worrying about our future, etc. I wonder how many women attending the Summit, which lasted for four whole days, felt they had to hide what they were doing. If so, it took real courage just to be there, even on Zoom. And God bless Katy Seppi of Chasing Creation who organized the whole thing.

I hate that some (many?) of you have to join us in secret. If we’re ever going to find peace, we need to be able to talk about our situations, admit to our grief and claim our efforts to make sense of life without children. To put it in psych talk, we need to “own our stories.”

In Jody Day’s keynote speech at the Summit, she said that 10 percent of people without children are childless by choice, 10 percent by infertility, and 80 percent by circumstance. That’s us. We need to be free to talk about it and to support each other. Childlessness for whatever reason should not be seen as a dirty secret we need to hide under the mattress like porn magazines. 

Relationships are difficult, especially when you disagree about children. In addition to your partner, you may have stepchildren looking over your shoulder. I can hear them saying, “You’re not childless; you have me.” We all know that’s not the same. We also have parents, siblings, co-workers and friends who just don’t get it. But we have every right to say, “This is my situation. I’m trying to deal with it. I hope someday you will understand.”

It makes me sad to realize you have to hide your reading about childlessness. I pray you can all find space and your own computers, tablets or phones to read whatever you want and the courage to declare, “This is important to me, so I’m going to read it.”

How is it for you? Do you feel free to read and comment or is this something you need to hide? What can we do to change the situation? I look forward to your comments.

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Enough with All the Happy Talk

Toxic Positivity. Have you heard that term? It’s when people insist you look on the sunny side of things. “Your time will come.” “Don’t worry. You’ll get to have your baby.” “You just need to think positive.” “Look on the bright side.” “At least you have __________.”

So often people who say these things are trying to be helpful, but they are having the opposite effect. They are denying your right to feel however you need to feel. If you appear to be to be sad, angry or hopeless, it makes other people uncomfortable, so they try to put a happy spin on it. You had a miscarriage? You can try again. Your husband doesn’t want kids? He’ll change his mind. You can’t seem to get pregnant? You just need to relax. They make it sound like your negative attitude is to blame for your problems. If you just put on a happy face, everything will work out.

Yeah, sure.

Makes you want to scream, right?

That’s toxic positivity, which was the subject at Katy Seppi’s Chasing Creation podcast earlier this week. Her guests were life coaches Sadie T of Curiously Sadie [@curiously_sadie] and Carrie Hauskens, whose recent blog post on the subject inspired the podcast. I encourage you to read that post.  You’ll be shouting “Yeah!” “I know!” and “Bullshit!” along with her.

“I think it’s exhausting trying to stay positive all the time,” Hauskens said. She tends to be very honest about her infertility journey, which includes a miscarriage and a stillborn daughter. It makes people squirm. Her husband is also straightforward. He notes that the positive commenters have been thinking about this for a few minutes while they’ve been trying to have children for seven years.

“I don’t have to be optimistic,” Hauskens stressed.  

Sadie added that toxic positivity discounts what a person is feeling and what they have gone through. They’re kind of saying “It’s fine. Get over it.”

But grief doesn’t just disappear. It keeps coming back, and we need to talk about it. It’s not healthy to keep it in just to make our uncomfortable friends more comfortable.

The women agreed that in some cases you may need to spend less time with the people who keep spewing platitudes and look for others who understand what you’re going through, other childless people, for example.

So what should people say? It’s fine to just admit you don’t know what to say, Hauskens said. You can say, “I’m here for you” or “What can I do to help?” Just don’t try to correct the person’s feelings.

Just being there is enough, Seppi added.

Bottom line: Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about not having children (or anything else). Let me feel my feelings and find my own way through them.

Does this ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. Have you experienced “toxic positivity?” How do you react? Please share in the comments.

More reading on the subject:

“Toxic Positivity is Real” by Simone M. Scully, Healthline.com, July 22, 2020.

“Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side” by Konstantin Lukin, PhD., Psychology Today, Aug. 1, 2019

Childless Suffer ‘Disenfranchised Grief’

On a recent podcast, UK childlessness guru Jody Day and host Kathy Seppi talked about “disenfranchised grief.” We have talked a lot about grief here at Childless by Marriage, but something clicked in me when I heard that.

What is disenfranchised grief? Grief researcher Ken Doka defined it as “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Let me put it another way. You have suffered a loss, such as the chance to have children, but other people just don’t get why you’re hurting or acknowledge your right to grieve.

Seppi, whose Chasing Creation podcast focuses on infertility, said disenfranchised grief is “the feeling you have to prove how much it hurts.”

Jody Day, who is also a psychologist, added, “We want people to see our pain.” Grief changes a person, she says. Our lives might look completely the same from the outside, but grief changes how we feel about it from the inside.

At a site called whatsyourgrief.com, Litsa Williams lists 64 situations where people tend not to acknowledge the right to grieve. They include death of an ex, moving to a new place, losing a friend, and death of a dream. Losing the family you had expected to have certainly fits on that list of things we grieve but other people don’t understand why.

Not long ago, I sang at a funeral for my friend’s husband. I found myself in tears. Not only was I sad for her and missing her husband, who was also my friend, but I felt my own losses–my father, my mother, my husband. But most strongly, as I watched my friend’s adult daughter holding onto her, taking care of her, I kept thinking who will be there for me? Once again, I grieved the loss of the children I never had.

The grief is there. I will always be different from all those people at the funeral who have children. It’s not something I could speak of, certainly not that day, and not something that anyone would have thought about when they saw me trying to wipe away tears around my COVID mask.

I don’t look bereaved. You can’t tell from the outside. I’ve got a pretty good life. But still, that thing is there. Aug. 21, on the first anniversary of my father’s death, I posted a picture of him with me and my brother as babies on Facebook. No one will ever post a picture like that of me, and that hurts.

Childless grief is tricky. If you had a baby who died, you could hold a funeral. You could maybe dress in black and avoid society for a while. But grieving for something that never existed, for the lack of something you wanted with all your heart? People will say buck up, you’ve got a good life, look at all the freedom you have and all the money you’ll save. Right?

If you burst into tears at the office . . . well, you feel like you can’t. You mustn’t. And yet we do want people to see that we’re hurting and to offer comfort. Just like when we were little kids and skinned our knees, we want someone to hug us and bandage our wounds, to acknowledge that we are hurt.

With childlessness, it’s like we didn’t get that doll we saw on the TV commercial; what right do we have to cry and carry on? We want to be held. We want someone to stop the bleeding. We want someone to say we didn’t realize how much it hurt. Here is your doll. Now wash your face and we’ll go get ice cream cones. Isn’t that what we want? Of course it is.

You know what? I think it’s okay to express our grief right out loud. I wanted to have a baby. My heart hurts because I never did. Will you hold me and help me feel better? Let’s say it out loud.

COVID be damned, I want to hug all of you.

Please share your thoughts.

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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.

The coldest reaction to childless grief

“Get over it.” That’s what his girlfriend said when this man who wrote to me told her he’d have a hard time dealing with not having children. They were talking about marriage. She had been married before and had a daughter. Now 45, she wasn’t interested in trying for another. But he was younger and still wanted kids. He wanted her to understand that he would need a lot of moral support if he never became a father. She said, “get over it.” 

As far as I know, they’re still together, but now he’s worried about her attitude.

You don’t just “get over” losing your chance to have children. We all need to find a way to live with it, to keep it from ruining all that is good in our lives, but that feeling of something missing does not just disappear. It’s a bit like the feeling we have when someone we love dies. As the priest told my father, brother and me before my mother’s funeral, there’s a wound in our hearts that will never completely heal. Ten years later, I know it’s still there.

I have heard people say “get over it” about lots of things. Childlessness is definitely one of them. I know men and women who have progressed from childless to childfree. They have come to a place where they don’t mind not having children. They’re even glad about it. God bless them, but it’s not that easy for most of us. The least our partners can do is try to understand that sometimes that old wound will still hurt.

I think “get over it” is one of the most hurtful phrases in our language. It denies our right to have feelings, and those who say it should get over that.

Has anyone ever said this to you?