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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What is Your Legacy If You Don’t Have Children?

Register here to attend.

My mother always said the most important thing she did in her life was to raise my brother and me and help raise my cousins who lived with us for a while during a tough time. She never worked a paid job after becoming pregnant with me, her oldest child. She was brilliant and could have done anything, but my father didn’t like the idea of her going out on her own, so she put all of her efforts into home and family and an endless stream of needlework projects. This was an earlier time when things were different than they are today.

I was raised to be a mom and housewife like my mother, but things didn’t turn out that way. After two marriages, I find myself widowed and childless. Oh, I am married to a house right now, with a never-ending to-do list. But you mow the lawn and it grows back. You wash the clothes and they get dirty again. You bake a cake and it gets eaten. None of that is a legacy; it’s just maintenance.

Unlike my mother, I have always been driven to do more. I’m a musician and a writer, and I volunteer for far too many things. I think I’d do the same if I had children. I can’t see wasting a minute of my life. But if nothing else, I would know I had added these people to the world.

At today’s webinar “Leaving a Legacy,” part of World Childless Week, I will join other women over 60 to talk about what we leave behind if we don’t have children and grandchildren to guarantee we make a lasting mark on the world. For me, I hope my writing will live on in my books and other projects, that my blogs will survive until the Internet changes so much that no one can read them. I hope someone will include me in the family memories, but I am aware that my branch of the family tree ends with me. Maybe I shouldn’t look for anything large. Perhaps something I did or said made a difference in someone’s life. Maybe someone learned something from me that helped make their life better. Maybe it’s enough that I occupied this portion of the earth for a while and took care of it the best I could.

There’s also the question of keepsakes and photo albums that most of us have collected. Who will get them if we don’t have kids? Who will take Grandma’s rocking chair? That’s another kind of legacy. I know, it’s all “things.” Most will end up going to charity or a dumpster. Do things really matter in the end?

I suppose we can’t really know what our legacy will be.

You may be 27 years old and thinking you have decades ahead of you before you have to think about this stuff. What’s this got to do with having babies? Maybe you still haven’t figured out whether or not you’ll have children. But it’s interesting to ponder. What do you think your legacy will be after you’re gone, hopefully after a long and happy life? Do you worry about what you will leave behind?

If you can, please register for the webinar right away, if you haven’t already, and join us tomorrow. This is a fun group of fascinating women, and I guarantee an interesting chat. It will be recorded. If you are registered, you will receive an email with the link to the recording.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Without Kids, What Does September Bring?

It’s September 1. For most of us as kids, this meant the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. It was like there were two New Years, the one on January 1 and the one that came in September with new clothes, new classes, and a return to cooler weather. No more vacations, no more running around in flip flops. Back to sitting in our classrooms and doing homework. Term papers! Argh.

How many of us started the first day of school having our picture taken in the front yard? Many adults will be taking pictures of their own children going to school this month, most for the first time in person since early 2020. But we don’t have any children. Unless we are teachers or going to college ourselves, September is like any other month, except the leaves are falling and the days are getting shorter. As with Mother’s Day, the back-to-school ads and photos of school kids on social media don’t apply to us. Is this a good thing or a relief?

This year, the news is full of worries about COVID and whether the teachers and children will be safe. Too young to be vaccinated, the students may or may not be wearing masks, and even that might not be enough protection. One of my writer friends reported last night that both of her children have already been sent home to quarantine because someone in their classes had the virus. If I were a parent with a child in school now, I’d be terrified. For this one moment, I am grateful I don’t have to worry about my own children or grandchildren risking their health to go to school or struggling to learn online, which is barely adequate. How fortunate we were to grow up in safer times.

Most of the time I hate that I don’t have children. I have started watching a TV series on Netflix, Bloodline, featuring this huge family with so many characters I can’t keep them straight. They don’t get along very well, but the show emphasizes my aloneness. I want to be a matriarch like Sissy Spacek, beloved by all these offspring. These are the moments when I think I really messed up my life. But it was just bad timing. The first marriage was doomed from the beginning, and my second husband, Fred, was done having kids. Still . . .

It’s September. I thank God I don’t have to worry about children or grandchildren in school. Many of my friends are teachers, and I worry about them. For years, we have worried about people with guns coming into classrooms. Now we also worry about a virus. What a world.

Earlier this week, I thought I had COVID. I was feeling sick and just off. But I got tested, and it came out negative. It could so easily have gone the other way. Please be careful out there.

COVID aside, how do you feel about back-to-school time as a person without children? Does it emphasize your childlessness or just make you nostalgic for your own school years? Some of you may be going to school yourselves, something that might be more difficult or impossible if you had children. That’s something to be grateful for.

What are your thoughts as the world goes back to school? Please share in the 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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