Infertility vs. Childlessness by Circumstance

Did you attend World Childless Week last week? I missed most of it due to health problems and other complications, but as things calm down, I’m enjoying the recorded sessions and the written testimonies submitted by many childless men and women, including me. I encourage you to give it a look at https://www.worldchildlessweek.net.

You can also watch me and other childless elderwomen gab about what our legacy will be as people without children. I love those ladies. I suspect that if we met out in the world, we would not spend all our time talking about childlessness; we’re all too busy with other things.

Most of the speakers at World Childless week and other online childless gatherings are dealing with infertility. Some spent years trying to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to delivery. They suffered multiple miscarriages. They tried IVF, vasectomy reversals, surgeries for endometriosis and other maladies, and none of it worked. In some cases, the speaker’s partner was the one with fertility challenges, but they faced them as a couple, both wanting children.

Only a few talk about being childless by marriage, or lack of marriage in some cases, situations where there is no physical problem, where if both parties were willing, they would have babies. Although we have many challenges in common—the stupid questions people ask, feeling left out among our mothering friends, grieving the life we thought we would have—it is quite different in other ways.

Some of the programs at World Childless Week address learning to love bodies that have failed to procreate, ovaries that don’t offer eggs, uteruses that don’t welcome fetuses, cervixes that release the baby too soon. But for many of us who are childless by marriage, our bodies are just fine. There’s no physical reason we can’t have children.

It’s our situation that doesn’t allow us to have the family we had planned on. We hooked up with a partner who never wanted children, who had a vasectomy, who has already had children and does not want any more. With infertility, we can seek medical intervention, find a sperm or egg donor, adopt, or take in a foster child, but without a cooperative partner, we’re stuck. It’s very different from a couple facing infertility together, both desperately wanting a baby.

Have any of you ever answered the ever-present questions about when you’re going to have children or why you don’t have them with “We can’t.” I admit that I have. Technically, because of my husband’s vasectomy, that was true. But there were ways around if it he was willing. He was not. It was so much easier to say “We can’t” and change the subject than to try to explain the real reasons we did not have children together.

There are always going to be people who won’t understand, who will blame us for bad choices, even if it was really just unfortunate timing.

When someone says they tried to have children, but they couldn’t, it’s as if they get a free pass. People may pity them. But it is an acceptable reason. Of course, then they may have to explain why they didn’t “just adopt.” As if it were as easy as going to Costco and picking up a baby.

I can see how those who have suffered miscarriages, endometriosis, early hysterectomies and other medical problems may have difficulty loving their bodies, but how do we feel about ours? Do we crave the scars and stretch marks we never had or love our bodies for the perfect creations they are?

Let’s talk about it. How is being childless by marriage different from being childless by infertility? Face to face with someone who physically could not become a parent, how do you feel? Is your grief as valid as theirs? Do they respect your challenges? Do you feel like you’re both going through the same thing or do you feel somehow guilty?

Does this all make you really angry at your partner or your situation?

I look forward to your comments.

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Can you love a man with too many X chromosomes?

Have you ever heard of Klinefelter Syndrome? Neither had I until last week. It’s relevant here because men who have it are usually sterile.
Klinefelter occurs when a male baby is born with an extra X chromosome, sometimes more than one. Usually males have one X and one Y. Females have two X’s. That extra X wreaks havoc with the boy’s system. The sexual characteristics that usually come with puberty come late, if at all. They have small testicles, sometimes grow breasts, sometimes have higher voices and don’t grow facial hair. They may seem more feminine than other boys. There are other aspects of the syndrome, such as emotional and cognitive delays, personality problems, weak muscles and a tendency to develop osteoporosis and bad teeth. The symptoms can be treated to a certain extent with high doses of testosterone, but hormone treatment does not restore the ability to produce sperm.
I recently read a book called Living with My X, written by Stephen Malherbe, a South African man who has Klinefelter Syndrome. Well into his teens, he still looked and sounded like a little boy and didn’t know why. After he got the diagnosis and was treated with testosterone, he grew to normal size and went through a late puberty, but his problems were not over. Malherbe has been married and has had many relationships with women. Most of those relationships failed, partly because he had trouble communicating and partly because sooner or later he had to tell the women he was infertile. The first woman he told was his fiancée a couple weeks before the wedding. He shouldn’t have waited that long, of course, but how do you say something like that? They went ahead with the wedding, but the marriage didn’t last long. Neither did his second marriage.

Most of the women he told about his problem said it was all right. They could adopt children. But sometimes they realized that wasn’t going to be enough. Sometimes his personality got to them. He was always leaping into new schemes, unable to sit still. He has also suffered a variety of physical problems stemming from his Klinefelter Syndrome. In later years, he has found someone to love, but Klinefelter continues to affect his life.

Klinefelter Syndrome and other genetic variations can manifest themselves in various ways. They do not always cause infertility, but KS usually does.

Here’s a shocker. Approximately one in 500 male babies is born with one or more extra X chromosomes. The degree to which it affects them varies. Some have no idea until they want to have children and discover they’re infertile. What if a woman falls in love with such a man? What if he can’t give you children but he’s the sweetest person you have ever met? What if you don’t find out until you’ve been married for a few years?
There are a lot of reasons people don’t have children. This is one most folks don’t know anything about. You can find more information at the Klinefelter Syndrome support site.
Have you ever known anyone with Klinefelter Syndrome? I’d love to hear your comments about this.