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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He was an Older Man with kids…

Today, as we sit breathing smoke and looking out at orange sky from wildfires burning all over Oregon and California, we have a guest post from “Kimberly.”

I just discovered the term for the grief that has been building up in my throat and tear ducts yesterday as I was scouring the internet for anything to define my current emotional state, and I finally found it: childless by circumstance. Finally a phrase to equate with this heavy unwavering feeling that pervades my soul.

I always wanted kids, since I first taught kindergarteners at Vacation Bible School at the tender age of 13. Sunday school followed that, and I even became a nanny at age 22 to an adorable toddler named Alex. My life was to be filled with kids—dirty diapers, tiny fingers grasping my thumb, wispy, sweaty baby hairs that I would tenderly wipe away and salty tears that would dry up instantly with my hugs.

But then I fell in love at age 27 with a man 10 years my senior, separated from his wife, with 10 and 14-year-old children. We dated on and off for years, a desperate and mesmerizing love story. I tried countless times to move on from him and start a fresh relationship with someone who could give me the safety I craved, complete with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. But he was my soul mate, so I followed my heart and married him finally at age 37. He never wanted more kids and told me so, but I guess I believed that love would eventually change his mind. It didn’t and I accepted that—or I thought I did because I grew to love his children, especially his daughter, like my own. I even bought Natalie her wedding dress.

Then Natalie got pregnant at age 26, and I grew so excited at the thought of becoming a grandmother at age 44. Except once the baby was born, the grief hit me like a tidal wave. Here was what I could never have. The loss of the life I dreamed about was amplified and triggered by her newborn, and I realized I had never told one person in my life how much it hurts to lose my baby dream. I never even whispered it. I just bottled it up into some tiny piece of my heart and hoped that being a stepmother and eventually a grandmother would be enough. No one knows how hard it is to walk in my shoes every day with a profound sense of loss—what a burden I feel—and how lonely it is to be childless by circumstance.

I have a friend right now who is almost 41 and actively trying to get pregnant for the first time. She too married later in life and was never sure if she wanted to have children. But then out of the blue it hit her, that yes, this is the path she wants to go down. Somehow I have become her confidante and the only one she tells about all that she is going through. It never occurs to her how much this might hurt someone like me, someone who never got the chance to have kids. How each time she calls me, I end up sobbing afterwards, how I do not think I am strong enough to support her in this journey, how much I wish that journey was mine.

Kimberly, we do know how you feel because many of us feel the same way. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Well, readers, comments? Commiseration? Hugs?

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Please pray for everyone involved in the western wildfires, including the firefighters and the thousands who have had to leave their homes. The heat is extreme and the wind near-constant. Here on the Oregon coast, the sky is orange and full of smoke, and it’s almost dark at 10 a.m., but we are safe so far.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.