Is Childlessness by Marriage Not the Same as ‘Real’ Childlessness? 

“Imposter syndrome” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days. In my understanding, it means you don’t feel qualified for the thing you are doing. For example, I would be suffering from it if I believed I wasn’t a good enough writer to be published, even though I have been published many times. 

Says “Very Well Mind”: “To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”

Some of us probably feel this way in our careers. When I play the piano at church, I expect someone to figure out that I don’t have much training and leave out a lot of notes because I can’t play them all without my fingers getting tangled up. It hasn’t happened so far. I get lots of praise, but I know, and God knows. 

But how does this apply to being childless, particularly childless by marriage? Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority, talked about it at our Childless Elderwomen fireside chat last Sunday. (You can watch the video here if you missed it). I hadn’t thought about it before, but I realized I had felt that.  Here are some ways we might be feeling like phonies and fear being caught:

  1. You’re in a gathering where most people are parents. They’re chatting about their kids, school, sports, whatever. You’re nodding, adding a comment here and there. But you just know any minute someone is going to ask how many children you have and you’ll have to confess you don’t have any. Busted!
  2. You’re hanging out with friends who don’t have children because they never wanted them. You agree about the freedom, spare time, and extra cash it gives you. But you’re faking it. You would gladly give up your time and money to have someone call you “Mom” or “Dad.” 
  3. You’re talking with people who are physically unable to have children, sharing the yearning and grief, but you know you are not infertile, that if you had chosen a different partner, you could have had all the kids you wanted. So what right do you have to complain? 
  4. Your partner has children, making you a stepparent, legally or in practice. How can you call yourself childless? 

Are we phonies? Are we imposters? No. Our grief is real. We had a dream of how our lives would be, and we lost that dream. For one reason or another, we did not create life. Maybe it was our choice of a partner. Maybe it was just bad timing.

I can’t imagine the pain of infertility, often coupled with multiple miscarriages. And yes, I do enjoy the freedom I have. My husband shared his children with me. Although it was not the same as having my own, it was a little like having kids–for a while. But I still ache for those children and grandchildren I will never have. I am not an imposter, and neither are you. 

The subject of Sunday’s chat was the blurred line between being childless and childfree. We have more in common than you might think. Nosy questions, rude comments, feeling left out, fear of old age alone, we all experience that. It’s a continuum, and we’re all on it. 

Your truth, whatever it is, is real and valid. You are not a phony. 

I welcome your thoughts in the comments. 

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Silent Sorority book offers insights for all childless people

I just finished reading Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos. This is a story about infertility and its effects on a couple’s life. Like so many people, Mahoney assumed that when the time was right, she would conceive as easily as most of her friends and family had. But it didn’t happen. She takes us through her decade-long struggle to get pregnant, which ended after their second attempt at in vitro fertilization failed. That’s about halfway through the book. After that, she shares her grief and depression, anger, and attempts to find other “infertiles” like her. Eventually, she found a sisterhood with her blog,, and then this book.

Those of us who are not infertile, just childless by marriage or circumstance or even choice, might wonder why we should read this book, but it’s well-told story that carries the reader along, and it gives an excellent picture of what it’s like not to have children in a world where no one else seems to understand what you’re going through. Visit Pamela’s website and new blog at

So what does this have to do with those of us who are childless by marriage? It’s a good question. I loved this book. For some reason, I lap up tales of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as stories of unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy and childbirth. When a character in a novel is pregnant, I suddenly get very interested. Is this because I’m curious? Jealous? Wanting to live vicariously?

Tsigdinos talk a lot about “fertiles” and “infertiles.” That kind of puts us “childless by marriage” people in a weird place. As far as I know, I would fall in the “fertiles” group. I don’t know of any physical reason why I couldn’t have had a baby. Fred’s vasectomy made it impossible. So I guess he was infertile. Did that make us infertile as a couple? I suppose so.

Anyway, we may or may not identify with all the medical machinations of Tsigdinos’ attempts to get pregnant, but I bet we can identify with her grief at not being able to have kids and her anger at the stupid questions people ask, the insensitivity of people who flaunt their pregnancies and their children in our faces, and the feeling of not fitting in.

Our situation is tough, but I think people dealing with infertility, miscarriages,and stillbirths, people who spend years unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, have a much harder time and deserve our compassion.

I have added this book to the list of books and resources at my Childless web page, You might want to take a look.

I’d love to hear what you think about all this.

Read about the "Silent Sorority" of barren women

Have you read Silent Sorority? I can’t put it down. In this memoir, author Pamela Mahoney Tsigninos tells the story of her struggle to get pregnant, trying all the techniques that modern science has to offer, before realizing she will have to accept her childless state as permanent. Yes, she is struggling with infertility while many of us are fertile but don’t have a partner who wants to make babies with us, but many of the challenges she faces, especially in the second half of the book, are the same. Indeed, her title echoes what most of us know: people don’t talk about this stuff much.

Tsigdinos writes with such a free-flowing easy style that I have already gotten halfway through the book in half a day. You can read about her and her book at

While I was blog-hopping yesterday, I came across Laura Carroll’s blog, called La Vie Childfree. Carroll is the author of Families of Two, which tells the stories of 15 married couples who have decided not to have children. She has published a fascinating post this week on the increasing number of Gen Xers who are not having children.

I also found, a UK blog by psychotherapist Jody Day for the one in five women who don’t have kids. She calls us “nomos,” short for “not-mother.” You’ll find some good reading here, too.