They stayed in a childless marriage

Last week I asked the question “Did They Go or Stay?” Several readers responded. In general, they stayed. The one who left her marriage indicated that the marriage was not good in other ways.

Are they happy?

Kat: “Stayed in a very happy relationship. Found out last year that I couldn’t have had kids anyway, and needed surgery. Phew, glad I stayed.”

Tamara: “I knew that he was special and that I would never find someone that I loved as much as I love him. I still wish we had a child, but in the end I know that an unknown child could not give me the feeling of love nor could it complete me as much as my marriage does.”

M2L: “I have stayed, for now, and have watched my ‘childbearing years’ disappear. It is hard not to be resentful of a man who is now enjoying a grandchild. We shall see how it all works out!”

Jay: “I stayed, believing that God wouldn’t bless my leaving.
“We’d both wanted children before we got married. A few years in he changed his mind.
“My yearning has been powerful.
“I’ve forgiven him — over and over, as I continue to grieve unchosen childlessness.
“Now it’s too late for me to have children. I struggle with anger toward myself for staying. Anger towards his unkindness in expressing enthusiasm for other women’s pregnancies, his being baffled at why this could be troubling for me.
“His lack of concern for my lost dream compounds the pain.
“I often wish I had left, as the refusal to have children was only one part of the unhealthiness in our marriage. Still continuing to evaluate whether to stay in this marriage.”

Please keep the responses coming. We’d really like to know what happened, especially if you decided to leave.

I think most of us will not leave a marriage that is otherwise good. When I divorced my first husband, it was not because of his refusal to have children. I still believed we could work that out eventually. No, I had found out he was cheating on me and had been for most of the six years we were married. That’s what I found intolerable.

The men I dated between marriages were all willing to father my children, but none of them would have been good husbands. In fact, they would have been terrible. Then I met Fred, and he was so wonderful I was willing to spend my life with him, no matter what. I wanted children but not at the sacrifice of a good relationship. And I did get a sort of “motherhood lite” with the stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

Which is more important, finding the right partner or having children? That seems to be the essential question. We shouldn’t have to choose, but if we do, which way would you go? I look forward to your comments.

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Update: Two weeks ago, I wrote about rushing to California to help my father, who broke his leg. His leg is still unusable, and he spends most of his time in bed. It was a bad break, above the knee, and he will be 95 on May 1. Except for the leg, he’s in surprisingly good shape, but we don’t know when the care home where he’s staying will decide to discharge him and force us to find another facility or full-time care for him at home (could be this week!) or if he will ever be able to walk normally again. So keep him in your prayers, and thank you for the kind words so many have sent.

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I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Because it’s my birthday month, I’m offering you a present. A native American friend of mine has demonstrated the glory of the potlatch, where she showers her friends with gifts on her birthdays. I could never match her generosity, but I am offering a major book sale. For the month of March, you can buy paperback copies of Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, and the original edition of my novel Azorean Dreams for $6.50 each, including shipping and handling. That’s less than half price. The first five people to order will also receive a copy of The Dog Ate It, a limited-edition chapbook full of poems and photos about dogs. To order these books at the special price, go to this page at my suelick.com website. Do not go to Amazon.com, where they are still charging full price. This does not apply to my e-books. They are already deeply discounted. Help me clear out the old books to make room for the new ones to come.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.

Does this mean we can’t have children?

Does my partner’s condition make it impossible for us to have children? Do we dare? What if one of us says yes and one of us says no?

In the last few days, I have received several comments from a woman with epilepsy. Over the years, I have heard from people who suffer from diabetes, venereal disease, mental illness and other problems. Should they/could they have children? What if things go awry? Will their babies inherit their conditions? Three responses come to mind.

First, couples need to share important physical information that might affect their ability to bear healthy children, and they need to talk it through. To hide such things would be more of a deal-breaker for me than telling me about them. Are you not talking about it for fear the other person will leave? If they really love you, they won’t. If they can’t handle it, better to find out now.

Second, are you marrying a baby machine or a life partner? Ordinarily, babies follow marriage, but not always. For better or worse, right? Since my husband died, I can tell you I miss him far more than I miss having children.

Third, you need to get as much information about the condition as possible. Talk to doctors, do research, find out the risks and possibilities. Make an informed decision.

Epilepsy is scary condition. I have friends and relatives who suffer from it. The writer spoke of her fear that she might have a seizure in labor or while taking care of a baby. That’s a very valid fear. I know women with epilepsy who have successfully given birth and raised children to adulthood. I have known others who didn’t dare take the risk. If you have this condition, talk to your doctor. If you can get the seizures under control, motherhood may be possible. But both parties have to be willing to try, knowing the dangers.

My first husband had a form of epilepsy. Early on, he taught me how to take over if we were riding in the car when a seizure happened. His seizures were terrifying, but I didn’t love him any less for it, and it had nothing to do with our not having children together.

When I was dating my second husband, I questioned him about why he was so quick to get a vasectomy after his son was born. Was there some physical problem he was worried about? No, he said. He just didn’t want any more children. But everyone has something. Almost everyone on my mother’s side of the family has diabetes and kidney disease. Fred’s son inherited his farsightedness and will probably have to deal with thyroid disease at some point because it runs very strongly in Fred’s family. But meanwhile he’s a healthy young man who enjoys hiking and mountain-climbing.

There’s so much we don’t know. But people who claim to love each other need to talk about the things they do know and find out as much as they can before they have children together–or decide not to. If you can’t talk about these things with your girlfriend/fiancé/spouse, see that as a big red flag. Maybe this isn’t the right person.

What do you think about all this?

Stay or Go? No Easy Answers

 

Dear readers,

My life recently has been blessedly free of childless drama, so I’m going to let some of you talk today. Whenever I post about deciding whether or not to stay in a childless relationship, readers comment at length. (See Stay in a Relationship Without Kids or Go?)That’s the key question for so many. Do I stay or go? Do I accept a childless marriage with the person I love or take a chance on finding someone else? And sometimes the question comes from the other direction. The person writing is the one who doesn’t want to have children and worries about ruining the other person’s life. All the while, the biological clock is ticking. Listen here to Amanda, Kathy with a K and Cathy with a C. Their comments have been shortened a bit.

Amanda:

Dear Sue, I need help with my thought process and how I actually REALLY feel about the potential of being a parent. I’m very confused and quite honestly I could go either way with it but the fact that I won’t have forever to decide leaves me feeling a little anxious and maybe even feeling some sadness for what reason I have no idea why! I have been with my husband for six years and we just got married last year. He is quite literally my best friend, soulmate and partner in life. We have an amazing connection on so many levels in our relationship but I will say we have a lot of ups and downs. The passion and love is intense at times and I can’t imagine my life without him even when we are in the midst of a heated argument I know it will blow over and we will soon be back on the right page together in each other’s arms smiling and laughing once again.

When I first met my husband, I told him the idea of getting married and/or having kids was not appealing to me. Obviously when he proposed, two years later, I said yes, and we planned a beautiful dream-come-true wedding in Hawaii. My husband is 53, and I am approaching 30 (aka: biological clock-ticking age). I say this only because at 53 my husband is in no place with his age to want or need to be a new father. He has a son who is currently 20 and at the state university to become a pharmacist. Lee and his son are very close, he is a loving, caring and nurturing father, and his son is such a great “kid”.

Recently I noticed a sudden curiosity around motherhood. I think it began when I was 10 days late with my last period and a couple of the months prior it had been very light. I wondered if I was pregnant and I procrastinated taking a test because I was too afraid to find out. During that time of waiting I found myself thinking about what it might be like or could be like to have a mini-me/Lee running around, making us smile and laugh and bringing such joy and blessing to our lives. How my stepson would potentially love having a little brother/sister.

I cannot believe my thoughts have headed in this direction. One thing that recently hit me was the fact that my husband will likely be a grandfather someday very soon-maybe in the next 10 years. My stepson is with an amazing, beautiful, smart, energetic and good girl and I could see them getting married and having a beautiful family. I guess it freaks me out in a way because how would that feel being a step-grandma without ever having had any little ones of my own?

I still cannot fathom having kids of my own AT THIS POINT…. BUT WHAT IF in 3-5 years when I’m in my mid-30’s that urge kicks into full force?! What then? Start over? On my own. Single. Divorced. For what? The POSSIBILITY of meeting a great guy, who wants marriage and kids… And maybe doesn’t already have an ex, and kids already?! Shit. Seems like a lot to leave my husband- the loving, kind, devoted, beautiful soul of a man- to give him up for something that might not even happen, like you said, “the gamble”, not to mention AM I EVEN FERTILE? I know he will not change his mind. Even though he laughs and giggles when I tease him with “let’s make a baby” or “put a bun in my oven”, he laughs because he knows I am kidding about wanting to make love.

My husband is much older and could literally die first and leave me all alone with nothing and nobody! I feel so torn. I do NOT know what to do. The only thing I can do at this point is rely on the small tiny chance that somewhere down the road my husband will not pull out in time, and as a result we will be pregnant. He has already told me he clearly does NOT want more children (understandably so) and that he would understand if I did, and he would allow me to go on and pursue that dream. Of course he understands that if I got pregnant he would not leave me, he would stay by my side as husband and be the good father he already is, but he will not willingly give up his sperm to purposefully make a mother out of me.

It seems unfair that if the day ever came that I was truly willing, ready and able to procreate, that I would suddenly ditch and divorce such a loyal, faithful, devoted man, (especially because he wouldn’t divorce me if I got pregnant) but what I can’t wrap my head around is why he would be OK with me leaving him to go off and make a baby?! He told me that he knew that was a risk falling in love with & marrying a younger woman- that I might want to leave him for babies someday. I know I’ll never change his mind. So what the eff is my problem? Why am I worried about this now? Maybe I should not worry until IF the time actually ever does come THEN stress about this… Just worried it will be too late by then. I’ve always been the last to show up to the party, the chronic procrastinator, this is something you can’t really wait around on, right? HELP!

Kathy:

Amanda, I’m in a similar situation as you, only I’m 10 years older than you. My husband is 15 years older than I am. He has a 20-year-old from a previous marriage. We’ve been together for 14 years. We are the best of friends and still passionately in love. And I’m quite close to his daughter.

BUT… Before we got married, he always said he wanted more kids and then got cold feet after we got married. So slightly different situation than yours, but I was ambivalent about having kids just like you are, so I just kind of shrugged it off. But I will always regret letting someone else make a life-altering decision for me.

Now that I’m 43, I’m broken-hearted, and I feel like I wasted my life. And I keep thinking about the fact that my husband had a child with someone who was awful to him and then denied me the right to have children. Even though I’ve been nothing but good to him. This is a tough pill to swallow. This is the same pill you will eventually have to swallow. Take a second to make sure you can emotionally handle that.

My advice to you is to “talk” to future you. Look around and ask yourself if you’re completely OK with being alone as you age. Will you be able to find meaning in your life if you don’t have children? Only you can answer that.

In my situation, I just kept kind of living day to day – having a good time with my husband, but not planning for my emotional future. I had a real wake-up call a few months ago when I started skipping periods and realized it’s the start of menopause – even though I’m an athlete who is still in top shape, my fertile years are over just like that.

Now when I look in the mirror, I see someone who wasted her life needlessly. I didn’t examine whether I really wanted children because I wanted to be with my husband. Now I look back at the person I was and want to scream “RUN” to her. Even though I love my husband. Even though my life is perfect in every other way. I still feel like I am not a whole person. And being a step parent or step grandparent is not the same – even in the best of scenarios, like mine.

My advice is that only you know yourself, but if you have even the slightest fear that you’ll end up like I feel, RUN. You can learn to love someone else, but you can’t go back in time to have children when you’re older. My cousin found himself in a marriage with someone who realized she didn’t want kids, and he left. That was 25 years ago. He now has a wonderful family with three happy, successful kids. So it can happen for you if that’s what you want.

I can’t tell you if you’ll be filled with regret. Some people aren’t. You might be perfectly fine with not having kids, and that’s a very valid choice. I’m not you. But I desperately hope you’ll make a decision that sits well with future you. Because once it’s over, it’s over.

I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear. It’s not what 29-year-old me would have wanted to hear. But nobody took the time to tell me this might be a possible outcome, so I’m taking the time to tell you.

Cathy:

Wow. I’m on the opposite side of the coin. I had my son at 20, I’m now 36. I met my husband at 21 and have been with him ever since. He has wanted kids since we got married in 2008. I don’t want any more kids.

When I was in my early 20’s, I was able to go to school, work and raise a baby. At 36 I can barely stay awake past 10. My son is going to graduate high school next year (a year ahead) and we’ll be free to travel and enjoy life- no diapers, formula, sleepless nights, teething, crankiness, etc. etc. We can spend money on luxury items whereas most of our friends spend all they earn on daycare and the baby.

I’m one of the lucky ones- no stretch marks, veins, weight gain, no gray hairs (my sis had gray hair right after birth at 28) etc., I bounced right back within 4 months ( I didn’t breast feed though so I calorie restricted). I feel like if I had a baby at 36 I would never be that lucky, it would destroy my body.

My husband doesn’t agree, having his own kid means everything to him. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to lose him but I don’t want to resent the baby or my husband either. It’s not easy on either side.

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Now it’s your turn. Feel free to join the conversation.