Today I’m yielding my space to a reader who would really like you all to read, reflect and respond to his dilemma. Most of our comments come from women, but we need to hear the guy’s point of view, too. He asked me not to use his name, so let’s just call him Sam.
I’m a 56-year-old man, who’s been married 34 years last February. My wife and I are both only children. My wife is 7 years older than I am and had been married once before. We agreed before we were married that we both wanted children, though in hindsight I’m not sure she was as enthusiastic as I was. In any case, she never expressed any reservations before we were married.
My father was a bit of a flake, and though he never abandoned my mother and me, he was constantly changing jobs. I once counted that from the time I started school until I left for college, we moved 15 times. I consequently was determined that my own child(ren) would be provided with a stable home life. My wife and I waited 5 years after we were married, until we had purchased a house and were both fairly well established in our careers, before we started trying to have children. I was 27 and she was 34.
The month after we closed on the house, she stopped birth control and made an appointment with an OB-Gyn. Upon her first examination, he discovered that she had multiple large fibroid tumors. I understand that there are now treatment options, but 29 years ago the only option we were offered was an immediate hysterectomy. I was crushed, but I never seriously considered leaving her. I loved (and love) my wife deeply. I consider myself a very loyal person, and would never have abandoned my best friend for something that was never her fault.
I wish I could say that we pulled together in this tragedy, but she acted then as if it was a huge relief. I tried to talk with her about it, but she always pushed it away, perhaps uncomfortable because of my difficulty in talking about it. I realize that she may be covering her pain in flippancy (a common coping tactic for her), but she has often said how glad she was not to have had children. I threw myself into my work and tried to cope that way.
I tried to talk to her a few times about adoption, but she always immediately changed the subject. Recently, one of her friends from church adopted a child from the Child Protective Services program. After a few years, it became clear that the child has severe emotional problems and must undergo constant counseling and medication. My wife’s comment is that she is so glad that we never seriously considered adoption.
I always assumed that my grief would diminish over time, like my grief over my father’s death. But lately I find myself brooding over this constantly. My friends’ children are leaving for college or graduating, and having children of their own. Every time I hear about another “happy event” I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the heart with an icepick, I have tears in my eyes as I type this.
I wonder if my loyalty was misplaced, and if it would have been kinder to both of us had we split up and started new lives years ago. I recognize that I may be going through mid-life depression, and have simply seized on this as a hook to hang it on. I beat myself up every day for wallowing in self-pity, but I don’t seem to be able to stop. I also realize how ridiculous it would be to consider leaving my wife and trying to have children with someone else now. I’d probably have to marry someone at least 20 years younger, and I’m no George Clooney, nor am I a millionaire. I’m past the point of caring about becoming the cliché, but I couldn’t bear to break her heart like that.
And that’s how it ends, readers. Doesn’t it make you want to give Sam a big hug? Your comments are welcome.
Next week: surviving Mother’s Day.