The choices that lead us to childlessness

Fred Lick and Chico

I’ve been rewriting a memoir about caring for my husband with Alzheimer’s disease. In describing where we were back then, I needed to look back at how we got there and the choices we made. One of the biggest for me was choosing to marry a man who would not give me children. Fifteen years older than I was, Fred already had three children from wife #1, followed by a vasectomy. He made it clear he did not want to deal with babies again.

So why did I marry him when I had always expected to have children? Was it simply that the demise of my first marriage had left me feeling that I would always be alone and that I had already missed my chance? Maybe. Was it that my career was always more important than the children I might have had? I wonder.

I wish I could be anonymous today, but let’s dive into the reasons I committed my life to this man and gave up motherhood. As they say on American Idol, in no particular order. . .

  1. He had three children who could become my children. Instant family, two boys and a girl, no labor pains, no stretch marks. We didn’t exactly become the Brady Bunch, but they were kids and they were kind of mine. I got a partial membership to the Mom Club.
  2. I love, love, loved Fred. Still do. And he loved me.
  3. Men weren’t exactly lining up to be with me. After the divorce and a few more failed relationships, I thought I would be alone forever. Being married with no children beat not being married at all.
  4. My last relationship before I met Fred had exploded, leaving me a wreck. The man was verbally and sexually abusive and threatened to dump me every time I tried to stand up for myself. Fred was kind, smart, respectful and loving. He treated me like a princess.
  5. He brought love, family, and financial stability. I was not a “golddigger.” I did not marry Fred for money–he wasn’t rich–but I was aware that being with him would raise me out of poverty and let me pursue my writing and music dreams.
  6. Fred was a freaking catch.

I didn’t analyze it at the time. I didn’t make a list of pros and cons. We were ridiculously in love. Period. We both had been hurt in previous relationships and were happy to find love again. We had a lot in common. We fit. I have never regretted that choice.

Not that he was perfect. He had his quirks, but I’m kind of a pain in the ass, so I think I lucked out.

Until today, I never thought hard about why Fred chose me. I was his friend Mike’s sister. He found me pretty, talented, sexy and available. But I wondered at the time if he was ready for a new relationship. I had been single for four years, but he and his first wife had split less than a year earlier. Their divorce wasn’t final yet. Was I the rebound girl? Was it just that Fred couldn’t stand to be alone? I have seen men marry younger women to fluff their egos, take care of their kids, and cook their meals. I have seen men hook up with women with well-paid jobs to share their money. But Fred was doing fine on his own. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He’s here not to ask, so let’s just say I appeared at the right time and place and it was good for both of us. Or, as I tell my religious friends, God put us together, one of his miracles.

Enough about me. More than enough. Hindsight is always 20-20, as the tiresome saying goes. If you’re in the midst of a potentially childless by marriage situation, don’t wait for hindsight. Go somewhere by yourself and analyze your choices while you have time to change your mind—or decide that you don’t want to change a thing. Just know why you’re doing it.

I welcome your comments.

NOTE: This is the 750th post at the Childless by Marriage blog. It started in 2007, years before the Childless by Marriage book was published. I’m amazed. I brag that I could write 500 words on any subject, but still…

If you would like to contribute a guest post, follow the guidelines on this page and go for it.

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Can You Answer the Hard Questions About Childlessness?

Jo Vraca

Do you get stuttery when people start asking questions about your childless situation? I sure felt like I did last night when I was being interviewed for an upcoming podcast. And I’ve published two books and over 700 blog posts on the subject. Jo Vraca of the UnRipe podcast from Melbourne, Australia asked some tough questions that I found difficult to answer.

I have told the story of how I came to be childless many times. First husband didn’t want them, second husband had a vasectomy and three kids from his first marriage. But she pressed for more.

When did I know for sure that my first husband didn’t want children? There was that comment, when I thought I might be pregnant, that if I was, he’d be gone, but did he actually say, “I never want to have children.” No. Why didn’t I press him on it, get a commitment one way or the other? Why didn’t I threaten to leave? I was only in my 20s. Why didn’t I take my fertile eggs and find someone who wanted more than a sex partner?

I don’t know. I was young. It was the 70s. We were Catholic. I thought we had to stay married. I thought no one else would want me. I thought eventually he’d give in. After six years, a few months after he announced that he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay married, I caught him cheating. I moved out and filed for divorce. The Catholic Church annulled the marriage based on his refusal to have children.  

I haven’t seen my ex since 1981 (I know, longer than many of you have been alive.) Through his sister and through searching online, I know he got married two more times and never fathered any children. So maybe I have my answer.

But why did I let him take motherhood away from me? I wish I had a good answer for that.

Then came Fred. I knew the facts, and yet I didn’t face my future as a childless woman for a long time. When did I know for sure? Again, I can’t say. I guess I knew it as I approached 40 and saw no Disney movie magic making my dreams come true. Was there a day when I said, well, if I’m married to Fred, I’m never going to have any children? Not until after I went through menopause in my early 50s. Why not? Was I hoping the stepchildren would fill the gap? I guess I was. Did they? No. Maybe if their father had been more involved, if I had tried harder, if my family had been more welcoming . . .” They’re not in my life, and I feel this big knot of guilt when I think about them.

Finally, knowing everything I know now, would I still stay with Fred? Yes. I never met anyone else I’d rather be with. I just wish childlessness had been a more conscious decision and that we had talked about it more.

Jo Vraca asked really challenging questions. She’s a good interviewer, and she doesn’t waste time on nonsense like so many podcasters do. She forces people to think, and that’s a good thing.

My UnRipe interview will be online in a few weeks. I’ll share the link when it’s available. Meanwhile, give some of the other interviews a listen.

Jo, an author, dog and cat mom and chef in training, is childless herself. At first, she and her husband both agreed they weren’t interested in having children. But as the biological clock ticked down, she changed her mind. He went along with it, but they couldn’t conceive. They tried IVF, but it didn’t work. Finally, he said he really didn’t want to have a child or to go through any more fertility treatments. So they stopped.  

Life happens, and often we don’t note the moments that change things. Years later, we look back and wonder: How did that happen?

Does this stir up some questions for you? I’d love to read your comments.

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Three Strikes, No Kids, and Still Standing

I yield the floor today to S.C., who offers this guest post:

As I prepare to celebrate my 65th birthday, I have been thinking back on my life’s journey and some of the truths that have lived with me since I closed the door on my dream of being a mother 25 years ago. I now lead a happy life with my husband of 36 years, but I hope for a brighter journey for the young childless women of today who are still coping with many of the same challenges my generation did. Although things are changing slowly, our pronatalist society still seems to be most comfortable sweeping childless women under the rug, one of the last of society’s unrecognized disenfranchised groups, written out of the dialogue because people don’t quite know what to do with us.

This post highlights some of the things that have shaped me and helped me grow into the resilient woman I am today.

I always wanted kids, and everybody knew it. I was the one at family gatherings who played with the younger kids because I enjoyed their company. I babysat as soon as I was old enough. I majored in Early Childhood Education in college and envisioned what my kids would look like, who their father would be and how we’d all live happily in the house with the picket fence, never giving a thought to how ordinary it all was but delighting in the dream of being a family. I grew up during the feminist movement and I was convinced I could do it all, family, career, personal life.

At 28 I married a wonderful man eleven years my senior who admitted to being unsure if he wanted children. I was convinced he’d be as happy as I was once they came. After a year of being married and no pregnancy, my doctor told me we should find out why. It turned out my fallopian tubes were very nearly non-functioning, with major blockages. After years of tests, procedures and being monitored for fibroids, I was finally told I had to have a hysterectomy at 39. Strike one.

With natural childbirth off the table, our only chance to become parents was adoption or surrogacy. Now my husband openly balked. He had been willing to go along with trying to have “our own” kids, but raising “somebody else’s” kids didn’t appeal to him at all. Surrogacy using his sperm was the compromise we came to agree on. Finding birth mothers for “hire” was complicated, involving contracts and lawyers, so we agreed to talk to family and friends who qualified as birth mothers. It didn’t pan out. Strike two.

Although we were down to his most objectionable option, I convinced my husband to start down the adoption path and see where it led. We pursued it for six months, but it was mentally grueling after all we’d been through, and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. All along the way, I had felt my dream of having a family becoming less and less likely, but I knew this was my last chance. By forcing adoption, our once strong marriage would be on shaky ground and there was a better chance than not we’d end up divorced. I was faced with the impossible decision of staying in a childless marriage or leaving in hopes of finding another mate and adopting in my mid to late 40s. I didn’t want to raise children alone, and I loved my husband. Deciding to stay was strike three for my dream of having kids. 

I’d be lying if I said the next five years of our marriage were great and I was sure I had made the right decision. I was in and out of therapy, and although I didn’t want to admit it to myself or to him, I resented our outcome and pinned the blame squarely NOT on me. I didn’t say, “You did this! It’s all your fault.” Instead, I lashed out at him for things he didn’t deserve to be lashed out about. I became sullen and moody. I felt like I was in quicksand sinking fast. 

And then I did something that would turn the tide on our future. With my husband’s full support, I made the terrifying decision to quit my corporate job and took early retirement from a successful but largely unsatisfying career. Combined with no kids, an unfulfilling career had been a drain on my energy, strength, and happiness. We had planned for early retirements financially by banking my check and always living well below our means, but this accelerated the plan for me by close to ten years.

Things didn’t magically turn wonderful overnight, but they gradually got better. I began exploring career options I had always thought I might enjoy: teaching, cooking, coaching, starting my own business. I ended up working as an independent consultant in my profession of Human Resources, and my husband and I even did some corporate training together. We traveled. We reconnected.

We’ll be married 37 years this October. I left the corporate grind 18 years ago. I occasionally think about the what ifs and I’ll always be sad about not having kids. But I made the right choice. Striking out doesn’t always mean going down.

Although I didn’t get to be a mother or a grandmother, it doesn’t define who I am today: a vibrant, happy woman whose gifts include the unique perspective and wisdom gained by traveling the challenging road of the involuntarily childless. 

***

Thank you for sharing your story, S.C. Readers, what do you think?

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Should She Marry Him if His Kids Hate Her?

Some posts just go on and on. Back on Oct. 23, 2021, I posted “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages.” Clearly that was an understatement because the comments flooded in, and they keep coming. The one I received last week from “The Struggle is Real,” in response to a Jan. 10, 2017 comment by Struggling Stepmom, was so passionate, I decided to feature it this week. The comment has been edited for length.

To StrugglingStepmom,

This response may only come in four years too late and so I don’t know what situation you are in now, but I am in your situation right now (more or less) . . . and it is pretty painful.

I have been in a seven-year relationship with my partner, and he has two daughters from his previous marriage. The children live with their mother but come to our home every second weekend and during school holidays. His ex has disliked me from the start and has always called me names. I thought that would fade over time, but it hasn’t. I never knew why she hated me. I met my partner about a year after they broke up. Her hatred towards me continues, and she has always tried to influence the kids by saying things like, “Your father prefers his girlfriend over you.”

Lately the youngest daughter, a teenager, is going through a rebellious phase. She acts rudely towards her father and me. I once disciplined her, and it did not go down well (I never laid hands on her, I just lost my patience and started raising my voice and putting her stuff that was thrown all around the floor into the bin because she wouldn’t clean up her room). In hindsight, I probably should have left this task to my partner, as she is not my child. But my partner is so relaxed and he always takes the backseat in this whole parenting game. He is not great at communicating (like most men), and he always just ends up telling her off and yelling at her instead of trying to explain things to her. It’s like he almost doesn’t know when to explain and talk to the child calmly and when to get angry and set boundaries. This really frustrates me at times.

I have set some house rules for when they are here, but they continually try to test our boundaries and break these rules. Because the whole disciplining thing did not go down well that other time, I have tried to get my partner to be more proactive at disciplining them. The kids of course still don’t like it, and they test their father all the time. I think they feel that their father would be more chilled and relaxed if I wasn’t in the picture.

Their father is really busy at work, and given COVID, I have been working from home. He is more than happy to leave the children under my care when he is at work. I feel that if I’m in charge of them, then perhaps I should be entitled to disciplining them to a degree. After all, if they act rude or say rude things to me, and all I can do is shut my mouth and wait until my partner comes home, then they have even less respect for me. They see that I can’t even fight my own battles. That is the logic that I thought of, anyway.

Because of what happened when I tried to discipline her, his daughter hates me. She tries to ignore me when she’s here. She only talks to me when she wants something. She’s not interested in having conversations or chitchats and she seems to always be in a bad mood (maybe she’s going through puberty as well. Not sure). She also doesn’t talk to her dad as much and resists hugs and kisses from him.

I have never overstepped the boundaries or treated her in a rude and selfish manner. I organize everything, from Father’s Day to the children’s birthdays to Christmas. But like a lot of people here have said, they just don’t appreciate it and they don’t see you as someone that they want in their lives. A lot of things go by without thank you’s, and I certainly would never get a happy Mother’s Day card.

My partner and I are now engaged, and we are planning our wedding. However, deep in my heart I have doubts about the future. I feel that his daughters are forever trying to tear us apart, and that all they ever want is to have their father all to themselves and for me to be out of the picture. This is of course supported by their mother, who hates me beyond anything and therefore encourages them to behave even worse. I feel really disheartened and afraid of what’s next. I also worry about whether I should marry a man when his children do not like me. I feel incomplete, and I feel like I should only marry him if his children and I get along beautifully, but that is probably never ever going to happen. I love my partner to bits, but I don’t want a dysfunctional family where everyone pretends everything is great on the surface but hates each other deep down. As I’m planning the wedding, these questions and concerns are becoming more concrete in my head. I always thought I’d stay with him in the long haul, with or without the marriage. But now it is becoming a real concern. Maybe I am just channeling my bridezilla? I don’t really know anymore. What do I do? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

Well readers, what do you say? Things might get better as the kids get older, but they might not? I welcome your comments.

***

Guess what? The Kindle version of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both will be on sale for only 99 cents next week. Visit the Childless by Marriage Facebook page after March 6 for details.

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Here Comes Christmas, COVID-Style

I stood in line at the tiny South Beach post office yesterday to mail the last of my family Christmas gifts to California. The postmaster, working with her daughter and her baby granddaughter beside her, was exhausted. Far more people are mailing packages because, like me, they are not going to be with their families this year.

As the song goes, I’ll be home for Christmas. I’ll spend the day with the same friend who got me through Thanksgiving. We don’t want to cook this time. We’d go out, but COVID-19 has closed all the restaurants to indoor dining and we’re not going to eat in the rain. So we’ll get something to go or prepare something simple, exchange our gifts, and watch a movie. She has kids, but they’re far away. This will be her first Christmas since her husband died and her last one here in Oregon because she’s moving to California to be near her daughter. But this year, it will be us and Pandora the cat or Annie the dog—we haven’t decided which house we’ll be at yet.  

I will not watch my nieces and nephews and their children open the boxes from me to see if they love what I bought them as much as I do. The little ones probably won’t understand who I am. Since I was last able to see them, over a year ago, they have changed tremendously. They have learned to walk, talk and start to read. This makes me sad because I wasn’t there, but not nearly as sad as I might be if they were my grandchildren.

A friend from my church has never seen her grandbaby who was born in March. Some friends have taken the risk to visit their families and returned COVID-free, but that’s not how it always goes. I know too many people suffering from the virus, some in the hospital on ventilators. Where perhaps in normal times, their families would keep vigil at their bedsides, no one is allowed in. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have children now; you die with only hospital staff to hold your hand.

On a recent SheSpeaks podcast, Savvy Auntie founder Melanie Notkin reminded listeners of the importance of attitude. “Life is a struggle. It’s what you do with it.” So, she says, decide what you want to do with the life you have, not the one you didn’t have, and figure out the steps to move that life forward.

Meanwhile, send out your presents and be grateful for whatever you receive. If you are well enough to visit via Zoom or Skype, have fun with it. Feel free to wear funny hats, dress up the cats and dogs, or make a silly video. Be glad you don’t have to spend great swaths of time this year hanging out with relatives who are all about the children and don’t understand or sympathize with your situation. Just do the holiday your way. Zoom-watch church services from all over the world. Make burritos instead of cooking a turkey. Stay in bed all day or play in the snow. Watch an entire season of “The Crown” in one sitting.  

COVID is horrible. Our little coastal county has just been moved up to the “extreme risk” category. I know too many people with the virus, two of them in the hospital on ventilators. Little children like my great nieces and nephew will not remember a world in which big people didn’t wear masks. If we are alive and well, we must give thanks and enjoy the life we have been given, even if we never get the children we wanted to have.

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It’s here! Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been published. After seven months and several title changes, I have gathered the best of the Childless by Marriage blog from 2007 to May 2020 into a book. If I had had any idea how difficult it would be to boil down more than 700 posts into a reasonable-sized paperback and ebook, I might not have done it. I mean, it’s there on the blog. You can read all the posts and the comments. It might take months, but you can. But what if the Internet disappears? It could, you know, and we have built something here worth saving. Sure, I started it, and I write the weekly posts, but it would be nothing without your comments. That’s why the cover says this book is by “Sue Fagalde Lick & Anonymous.”

During the month of December, if you email me proof of purchase for Love or Children along with your address to suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of my previous book, Childless by Marriage, absolutely free, paperback in the U.S., Kindle overseas. If you already have Childless by Marriage, you can give it to a friend or I can send you one of my other books. See https://www.suelick.com/books for other possibilities.

Announcing ‘Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both’

I’m holding the proof copy, but you can buy the newly published book right now .

It’s here! Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been published. After seven months and several title changes, I have gathered the best of the Childless by Marriage blog from 2007 to May 2020 into a book. If I had had any idea how difficult it would be to boil down more than 700 posts into a reasonable-sized paperback and ebook, I might not have done it. I mean, it’s there on the blog. You can read all the posts and the comments. It might take months, but you can. But what if the Internet disappears? It could, you know, and we have built something here worth saving. Sure, I started it, and I write the weekly posts, but it would be nothing without your comments. That’s why the cover says this book is by “Sue Fagalde Lick & Anonymous.”

Coming up with a cover was tricky. How do you express the idea of being childless by marriage in a picture? We tried a lot of different images, children’s toys and flowers and such, but I like what we wound up with. It was originally sort of a brick red. We played around with the shade, but then I suddenly thought, “Hey, what about teal?

The designer, Erin, who works for an outfit called Reedsy.com, did a great job designing the cover and the interior. I’m sure she earned a few gray hairs dealing with the more than 300 live links in the Kindle version. She worked all last weekend on them and didn’t get much sleep. But she found the subject interesting, so that helps. At 35, she and her husband are talking about whether or not to have kids.

What’s in the book? Let me share the table of contents.

Introduction

  • When Your Partner Will Not Give You Children
  •  Stay or Go: What Should I Do?
  •  Parenthood Delayed
  • Baby Lust
  •  How Do You Heal from Childless Grief?
  •  Learning to Accept Childlessness
  •  Childless vs. Childfree
  • Locked Out of the Mom Club
  • Male Point of View
  •  I Can’t Believe They Said That
  •   Do the Childless Get Ripped Off at Work?
  •   If You Don’t Have Children, You Will Never . . .
  •   Where Does God Fit?
  •   The Joys of Stepparenting
  •   Not the Life I Expected
  •   Old Age without Children
  •   What Will Be Our Legacy?
  •   Childlessness Didn’t Stop Them

See anything of interest? I thought you might.

I need your help spreading the word about this book. If you want to write a review, let me know, and I’ll send you a PDF copy. Or you can buy the Kindle version for $2.99. Review it at Amazon, Goodreads, on your blog, or wherever. If each reader tells a friend, sales will go well. It is so important that people read and start to understand our situation.

I will do my part by broadcasting the news wherever I can.

Meanwhile, for you, my dear readers, I offer a deal. As you know, Love or Children is my second book on the subject. During the month of December, if you email me proof of purchase for Love or Children along with your address to suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a copy of Childless by Marriage absolutely free, paperback in the U.S., Kindle overseas. If you already have Childless by Marriage, you can give it to a friend or I can send you one of my other books. See https://www.suelick.com/books for other possibilities.

Remember, the conversation continues here at the Childless by Marriage blog. This is post #726, and I have no plans to stop. New readers keep joining, and comments keep coming in. Also, I’m still accepting guest posts. See the guidelines on this page. We have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Take a minute to “like” it.

Thank you all for making this happen.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

‘Childless by the Marriage I Love’

Today, we have a guest post by Darinka from Hungary.

“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world.

To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

I like the story of The Little Prince, especially when the Fox tells this to the little boy. Reminds me of the “name it to tame it” approach that can help many times to settle our fears and heavy feelings. I set out for my journey of taming (and naming) my fox (or I could call it my monster) of childlessness three years ago when after seven years of marriage I learned that my husband didn’t want kids.

We live in an Eastern-European country, started our life together with very little means. We moved from one rented place to another, never feeling really settled. We both worked long hours, yet we didn’t feel financially safe enough to start a family. The topic did come up a few times over the years, but we felt the same way, that it was not the time yet.

Three years ago, we finally moved into our own home, which was a huge step for us. Now we were in our perfect little two-bedroom house on the edge of a small village by the woods. We now had the room and financial stability, so just after we moved, I felt it was time. My husband disagreed. We had to face that there are deeper reasons behind us not having kids than just financial ones. We started to go to counseling and found out more about our deeper reasons. My husband had a distant father who spent most of his life in severe depression, in and out of jobs, spending years in almost total silence and withdrawal. My husband was 17 when his youngest brother was born. He was an emotional crutch for his mum for many years, sharing the worries and troubles of his four siblings. So, my question of “Shall we have kids?” did not come to him as a sweet, exciting plan for life, more like another kilometer after a thousand-kilometer-long journey…no, no, not another one. 

A year after this, we decided to go for a puppy. My hopes were raised because I thought this meant we were making progress. We read books on how to bring up a puppy. Watched programs. Equipped the small bedroom, and so we brought home the sweetest black and white greyhound of six weeks. After three days, I sensed something was wrong. After five days, we both knew. My husband showed clear symptoms of burnout. He could not sleep, could not enjoy any of it, felt absolutely exhausted and depressed. He had such a strong physical and emotional reaction to caring for this little newcomer that finally it reached not only my mind but my heart, that this may be more serious than I thought, this may be permanent. We took the puppy back after a week. Cleared all her things. Packed up and went away for a few days because we couldn’t stay in the house. This sweet little puppy found a way to us. Showed my husband that he can’t accept the father within himself, showed me that I may never become a mum. She has opened a channel for my tears and sorrow. I cried for about six months. We shared many feelings, anger, fears, disappointment, hopelessness. But despite of all this (or because of all this), we moved closer to each other; our marriage became stronger.

I wanted to accept my husband’s feelings and decision. I read a lot, searched the web, joined groups, but couldn’t find a name for my monster. I deeply felt for those who struggled with fertility issues, but I didn’t. My brother and his wife were trying for a baby for seven years, my brother-in-law and his wife the same. We couldn’t really share our struggles with them. I couldn’t identify with those who are childfree by choice either. I am definitely not one of them. I felt it was neither my decision nor my medical circumstance, but what was it then?

I am still struggling with feeling the pressure of meeting others’ expectations, some guilt as I believe children are gifts from God. I find it difficult to say no to them, fear for the future. But I also know that the last thing I would want for my kids is for them to be unwanted by one of their parents. I’ve been there, I grew up like this, and I know it’s not a happy place. This is why I can’t follow advice like: just do it, no need to be ready, don’t worry, men usually want children less than women, just say you want it. Well, I can’t.

So, you see, it’s not only my husband; it’s me too. I am being loved and accepted by my husband. I feel it and I let myself enjoy this. I may still not feel wanted (that is too deep a wound to heal quickly), but I already know that I am.

Slowly a name is forming after all: I’m childless by marriage . . . and lately it seems less scary and less painful because I’m childless by not any marriage . . . but the marriage I love.

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Thank you, Darinka, for filling in for me this week. I am deep into the final proofreading for the new book, Love or Children, coming very soon.

I you want to contribute a guest post to the Childless by Marriage blog, see the information in the sidebar.

Reader Caught in Childless by Marriage Dilemma

   

Readers,

I received this email from “Kristin” over the weekend. At her request, I am sharing it with you. What do you think? What would you do?–Sue

My husband and I have been married about eight months, but were together nearly eight years before we were married. To fully tell this story, I feel like I have to go back in history a little because a portion of our eight-year relationship we spent apart. That breakup was because I was sure I DID want kids and he was (and always has been) sure he did NOT. To be honest, I can’t really say how we came back together, other than we did.

He is my very best friend. I think when we got back together and decided to get married a few years later it was because I genuinely thought I could compromise. I knew he didn’t want kids, and several more years had passed where I’d seen one sibling suffer through a stillbirth and another’s infertility leading to divorce. I rationalized that both of these things were just more examples that you shouldn’t choose a mate based on a desire to have children because “there are no guarantees” in life. I wanted to marry someone because I loved him and didn’t depend on all the “extras” in life.

What I could not have predicted was that by loving someone, building a life with him, and experiencing an even deeper love in this commitment than I had before, I developed a stronger desire to have a child. All of this became very apparent when he scheduled an appointment to have a vasectomy. I felt fine with it until, I didn’t. It hit like the worst wave of depression and devastation I’ve ever felt. We talked about it, and he agreed to cancel the appointment, but ever since then, it has been brewing just under the surface. He doesn’t say it directly, but he alludes to me trying to trap him into pregnancy, frequently saying we are “playing with fire.”

I should add that we have been pregnant once—more of a chemical pregnancy than anything—enough to be positive on a pregnancy test, and then I got my period. It was actually just before we were married and was one of the worst fights we’ve ever had. I know you could say I “shouldn’t have married him” if I knew that, but it didn’t change the fact that I love him. Even the antagonistic child-hating part of him. I can’t lie and say some part of me didn’t subconsciously think that time or a miracle from the Lord would change his mind. I think I also sort of have a false hope because he didn’t go through with the vasectomy yet. Like, he loved me enough to compromise on delaying it and then more false hope came about.

Today we are arguing again—and I am depressed, again. He will list all of the logical reasons why he doesn’t and has not ever wanted a child, and I will fail to articulate my emotions—because that’s all I can say it is now, a feeling. What I guess I wonder is: Will this pass? Is my love for my spouse enough to carry me, to carry us through this “fear of missing out” and whatever else may be rolled up into my desire to have a child right now? I am thankful for the solidarity of knowing that other people experience this, too, but it feels so painful that this is undeniably such a divisive thing. I don’t know how I won’t resent him at some point if I continue to feel this way, and yet a life without him isn’t something I want either. 

HELP

–Kristin 

Well, this is the crux of our “childless by marriage” problem. She wants kids; he does not. She loves him, he loves her, but neither is likely to change their mind. What do they do now? I know many of you have been there, done that. Me too, but my situation was different because Fred was older, a father of three, and he’d already had the vasectomy. I stayed with him, and I’m not sorry. But what advice do you have for Kristin?

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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.

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After more than 700 posts and with a new best-of-the-blog book coming, I am making some changes. I am using a new “header” image, but having troubles with it. The glitches will be fixed ASAP. Meanwhile, stay tuned.

Childlessness by Marriage Gets Little Press

I have been racking my brain trying to find a subject for today’s blog, and I’m coming up dry. Plus I’m distracted. Why?

  • Four friends have died this month, and another is on his way out. Every phone call or text makes me jump.
  • I have been spending hours working on the “best of Childless by Marriage” book, which is getting close to finished. It feels like we have covered everything already, but I know there are more stories out there. (See below)
  • I’m getting ready for a writer’s conference I’m working at this weekend—all online, which requires multiple training sessions. My writerly Zoom schedule is busier than my pre-COVID schedule, and the hours, designed to accommodate all time zones, are worse.
  • I’m going crazy with something called Restless Legs Syndrome. I don’t usually talk about this, but it’s running my life these days. Do any of you have it? Basically, it’s an irresistible urge to move one’s legs, caused by a neurological problem. It’s not fatal but totally crazy-making. I finally tried medication for it; it made it worse instead of better. The doc kept raising the dose until I was too dizzy and nauseated to function. Now I’m tapering off because it’s so addictive you can’t just stop. For hours at a time, usually in the evening, I cannot sit still. Not for five minutes. This thing, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, can be hereditary, so thank God I didn’t pass it down to my children.

In searching for good things to share with you, this podcast at “Remotely Relatable” sounded promising: “How Many Goldfish Equal a Child?” Once we get past the chit-chat and into the topic, we learn that neither Julie nor Stephanie, both in their 30s, ever wanted children. Julie had her tubes tied at age 30 to make sure she never got pregnant. Yes, her mother is still saving her stuffed animals for future grandchildren, but it’s not going to happen. Stephanie still has intact tubes, but she has never wanted children ever. So, these are not our people.

They did talk about how hard it is for millennials to fit children into their lives, what with student loans, careers, and the major events that have happened in their lifetimes—9/11, Recession, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic . . . We need a village to raise children, they said, but they can’t seem to find that village. Lots of us can identify with all that, but still, they didn’t want kids.

Oh, here’s an article about writer dealing with the decision. Nope, this won’t work either. Another woman with no urge to be a mother, she cites childfree actress Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City as her role model. She says all these people who think women have to have children to be happy should just back off.

Where does that leave those of us who are childless by marriage, who actually wanted children? Those of us who are childless because our partners wouldn’t or couldn’t are still in that rarely-talked-about but oh-so-common situation that nobody seems to acknowledge except those of us who are in it. Do you see your situation mirrored anywhere in the media besides here? Who are our role models? Where is our podcast?

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Would you like to write a guest post for this 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. 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. Nor will I accept posts that advertise a service or product. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing, but those that are published will receive a loving reception from our CBM readers. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

 

Thinking of Leaving a Childless Marriage? Read This

Dear readers,

I received this email from Victoria last week. It’s such a great story I asked if I could share it with you. Many of you agonize over whether to leave a partner who doesn’t want to have children. Faced with that situation, here is what Victoria did and how it turned out.

I met the love of my life in 2012. I was 30, and he was 37. We didn’t really discuss children too much, but six months after we met, over lunch with friends in France, he casually mentioned he did not want them. At that point, I was devastated. I knew I wanted children, but I had also not ever felt this way about anyone before. We discussed things at length, and he said he would think about whether he might change his mind. The years rolled by. We were so happy, and I couldn’t countenance leaving him.  It seemed so wrong to give up someone I loved so much for the potential of a child that might never exist. The issue came up a few times, though it was always in the back of my mind.  We ended up having some therapy together to try to get some sense of how to navigate life without resentment and guilt building up. Eventually after four years I decided that I could accept and embrace a childfree life if it meant keeping the man I loved.

I read your blog many times, often seeing the same theme: Should you leave the person you love in the hopes that you’ll find someone you love just as much, who also wants children, and you’re both able to have them? That could be a needle in a haystack. I thought I was quite at ease with my decision.

In 2017, we went on a holiday with a group of friends. One of the couples had a one-year-old baby. Watching them together was quite hard, and seeing how my partner reacted to the baby was equally as difficult. He just did not want to be around the baby at all, and it seemed to ruin his holiday. At this point, I had just turned 35. By now, the thought of being childless forever was in my mind every time I went to sleep. I thought about it all the time. Would I regret it? Did I even have any viable eggs left? I’d read so many forums, talked to friends, talked to my own therapist, and I just didn’t know what the right answer was.

One Sunday morning, after quite an emotional night, I made a snap decision to end the relationship at that moment. My desire to have children and my fear about how I would end up hating the man I loved over time became too much. I decided to leave. He understood. There were a lot of tears. Many days, I almost went back, but I didn’t. I thought I would look into having a baby alone. I had lots of tests, and I was lucky that at 35, I had a good ovarian reserve. I decided to give it a year and see if I met anyone. If not, I would go it alone. To be honest, at 35, wanting to meet a single man who was of a similar age who didn’t already have children but wanted them seemed a long shot.

Six months later, I happened to meet a lovely man. He was 36, single, no children, but he mentioned on our first date how much he regretted not having children. Eight months later, he proposed. Two months after that, we decided that as I was now 36 we should consider stopping birth control. A few months after that, I was pregnant. I honestly could not believe it. I spoke to my previous partner to let him know (he was now in a new relationship with someone who did not want children.) He was so happy for me, and said he felt a weight lifted off his shoulders, which was amazing.

In January of this year, I gave birth to my son. He is nearly six months old, and he is so perfect. I look at him every day and can’t quite believe that after all the years of agonizing, I finally have him. Admittedly, motherhood is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I struggled after a very traumatic labor and then dealing with a young baby and the COVID-19 lockdown has not been easy, but everything I went through was worth it for him.

I wondered if my story might help others who are struggling with the stay or go question.  I am not suggesting go is always the right answer, as I think for many people it isn’t, but for me it was.–Victoria

In a followup email, she added:

You reach a point where all of your friends are having kids, pregnant women or people with babies seem to be everywhere and I could hardly stand to look at them. I used to constantly imagine being pregnant, holding my baby etc. It became too much for me, and honestly I think the guilt became too much for him. We are both happier apart, I think, although I will always love him dearly.

We are undecided about another child at the moment after such a traumatic labor and being on the older side. Certainly not until next year if we do decide to but I won’t feel too bad if we don’t or can’t.

Good story, isn’t it? I welcome your comments.