What If Your Partner Dismisses Your Childless Grief?

Does your partner really understand how you feel about not having children? Do they sympathize or tell you to “get over it?”

I got to thinking about this after listening to a podcast about “disenfranchised grief” and childlessness with new Lighthouse Women leader Katy Seppi and Dr. Nisa Darroux. Darroux, who specializes in the subject, made some excellent points. I recommend listening.

Disenfranchised grief happens when other people don’t recognize your loss. To them, it looks like you haven’t actually lost anything. When someone dies, it’s clear. People offer cards, flowers, sympathy, and casseroles and gather around for support. But when it’s ambiguous, like losing the possibility of having children, they don’t know how to relate. With death, you had something and lost it. But with childlessness, well, you never had it.

This is not news to most of us. We’re familiar with people who say things like “why don’t you just adopt?” or “why don’t you . . . ,” with people who tell you it’s your own fault if you don’t have kids, that you must not like kids or want them bad enough, that you didn’t fight hard enough, or the ever-popular “you’re better off not having kids; if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have any.” We have heard the relatives asking when we’re going to get pregnant, making us feel guilty for not producing grandchildren, or comparing us to our siblings who do have children.

Friends say look at my adorable baby pictures, come to the baby shower, or this Halloween party is just for “families.”

People, society, the family don’t acknowledge your right to grief, but what if your partner does not recognize your grief as valid? What if he/she is the one who says, “Aren’t you over that yet?” “We’ll get you a puppy, okay?” “You knew I wasn’t going to change.” “Don’t cry over spilled milk—or spilled sperm?” “Look at all the money we’re saving.” Or, “Hey, I’m the one with the bad sperm/eggs/whatever. What are you crying about?”

You know?

What if your partner does not acknowledge the magnitude of your loss? It seems to me if a person really loves his or her partner, they would do whatever it took to make them happy, including having a child even if they’re not really into it. Maybe that’s stupid because they might be resentful and unhelpful throughout. Or maybe one of those TV miracles would occur and they’d fall in love with the child and wonder why they were ever reluctant.

But I have to ask: How can you love someone who dismisses your tears as foolish or invalid? I was lucky. I think my husband truly felt bad about my grief, although I tried to hide it most of the time. At least he didn’t dismiss it. And he did come with those three offspring for me to stepparent. “I can’t give you kids, but you can share mine.”

What if the one most dismissive of your grief is your partner? I don’t know what to tell you, except to try to make them see how it is for you. The only other possibility is leaving, and I’m not suggesting that. Or am I? I don’t know. Your partner should be the one person you can count on. If you can’t, that compounds the grief, and you shouldn’t have to carry it alone.

All I can say is talk about it, cry about it, yell if you need to. Don’t deny yourself the right to feel what you feel. Acknowledge it and hold it like the baby you didn’t have.

What do you think about this? Please share in the comments.

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Stay in a relationship without kids or go?

Last week we talked about the big gamble. Should you leave a partner who is unable or unwilling to make babies with you in the hope that you can find someone else with whom you can have children? Most of the people who responded had decided to keep what they had. They treasured their relationship enough to work it out. That’s what I did, too.

But that leaves a lot of people still in the gray area.

Ideally, we work these things out before we’ve made the commitment to another person. We discuss it, and if we disagree, we either decide to accept it forever or we walk away. Right? Not always. There’s a third response, the one I made and the one lots of us make. We tell ourselves that he will change his mind, that she will get the urge to have babies, that the physical impediments to conception will miraculously disappear. For those of us raised on fairy tales and Disney movies, it makes sense. If you wish hard enough for something, your dreams always come true in the end. If only real life worked that way.

Back in my mother’s day, kids were part of the package. If you didn’t want to have children, you didn’t get married because marriage meant babies. But nothing is guaranteed anymore. We have to discuss it and be clear on what we want. If a person is unable or unwilling to have children, that’s probably not going to change. Can you live with that?

Of course many of you are already in the relationship. It’s too late to work it out beforehand. So now what? Ask yourself some questions and try to be honest.

1) Am I happy with my life as it is right now? If nothing changes, can I remain happy with this person?

2) Do I love this person enough to choose him or her over the children I might have had?

3) Will I be devastated if I never have children?

4) Am I willing to risk ending up childless and alone–or becoming a single parent?

Tough questions. The hard part is that your answers may change over time. So might your partner’s. But I think we have to assume that things are not going to change, that there will be no miracles, and act accordingly.

I wish none of us had to deal with this, but we do. What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.

Childless journey begins: the revelation

In your search for a mate, you think you have found THE ONE. After years of bad dates, maybe even bad marriages, this man or woman is a keeper. And then, one day, after you’ve given him or her your heart, they drop the bomb. They can’t or don’t want to have children with you. He tells you he’s had a vasectomy. She tells you of problems that will keep her from getting pregnant. He keeps telling you he’s not ready for children. She shares that she never felt the urge to be a mother. He says the kids from his first marriage are more than enough. Gradually–or suddenly–you realize that if you stay with this person, you will never have children. Now what do you do?

This week I want to talk about that revelation. How do we find out that our partner isn’t going to have kids with us?

I was married twice to men who didn’t give me children. My first husband, Jim, seemed like he would be a great father. I watched him play with other people’s kids and assumed that he would welcome our own. In our Catholic marriage prep, we both signed a paper saying we would welcome children and raise them in the faith. But once we were married, he kept wanting to put off pregnancy. Not till we get good jobs, he said. Not till we get a house. The years were passing by. My friends and relatives were having babies, and I wanted one, too.

When I started taking care of the neighbors’ baby, I saw a different side of Jim. He couldn’t stand its crying, its smells, its needs. And then, when I thought, despite rigorous use of birth control, that I might be pregnant, he dropped the bomb. If  I was pregnant, he was leaving.

Would he really have done that? I’ll never know. It turned out I wasn’t pregnant. Soon after that, our marriage fell apart for other reasons. I do know that he did not have kids with his next wife either.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the revelation in my second marriage. But today, I’m asking you. How did you find out children might not be in your future? Did they tell you straight out, did something happen, did you guess? Did you believe them?  Let’s talk about it.