What is the Price You Pay for Childlessness?

Those of us in the United States and other “first world” countries who wanted children but don’t have them for whatever reason have our issues. We feel left out while our friends are busy with their children. We grieve the children we will never have. We are bombarded with nosy questions and suggestions from people who don’t understand our situation. But our lack of children does not endanger our physical safety or our status as full-fledged citizens. In some parts of the world, that is not true, particularly for women.

In her book Childless Voices, Lorna Gibb tells the stories of some of these women.

Khadiga, who lives in Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, is unable to have children. She does not feel worthy to marry, so she remains single, living with her parents and working as a banker. Her family, who lived near a school, had to move because the parents of the students would call her names whenever she passed by.

In India, it is worse. Gibb tells of childless women who are beaten by their husbands, shamed by their community, and made to feel so bad they commit suicide. In New Delhi, a 28-year-old woman who was depressed by her inability to conceive jumped out a window to her death. Another set herself on fire. Another hung herself.

In some cultures, the infertile wife is replaced by a second wife brought in to bear children. In Ghana, where infertility is seen as a curse, women without children may be branded as witches and forced to live apart from the rest of the community. In Yoruba, the childless woman is not considered a full-fledged adult and is not allowed to voice her opinion in public.

Although men may feel bad about their lack of children, the women are generally blamed, even if the husband is the one who is infertile. Often, the man refuses to be tested or even to consider that his lack of sperm may be the problem. Instead he lashes out at his wife. Writes Gibb: “The inability to have a child makes a man emasculated; he reasserts his dominant position by subjugating his wife through physical pain.”

Gibb writes about a small village near Delhi where “childless couples are regarded with suspicion, marked as cursed in a state known for its high birth rates, often forbidden from attending social and community events.” Some have resorted to human sacrifices in the hope of curing infertility.

The horror stories go on and on. In many parts of the world, having children is a requirement, not a choice. There is no dickering about husband or wife not wanting to have a baby, no right to choose career, art, freedom or whatever over parenthood. There is no choice. You must have children, and if you are unable to, there will be consequences.

For most readers here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we do have choices. They are difficult choices. We worry about grief, regrets, loneliness, and having no one to take care of us in old age, but whatever we choose, we can still have safety, love, work, and respect. Let’s count our blessings and pray for those who are treated badly for their lack of children.

Thank you, Lorna Gibb, for showing us what it’s like outside our bubble.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever suffered serious consequences for your childless state? Please share in the comments.

*****

The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s 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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Don’t Ask Me How Many Grandchildren I Have!

“How many grandchildren do you have?” a Facebook friend posted last week. People started commenting with their numbers—7, 3, 5, etc.

The original poster is one of those people who are always posting questions. What foods do you hate? What countries have you been to? Who starred at the first concert you attended, etc.? I’m sure you have friends who do that, too. That’s fine. It’s fun. But then this grandchild question came up.

I could not help myself. I typed, “Zero. You should not assume that everyone has children and grandchildren.”

That’s all I said. But it lit a fire. The mommy brigade scolded me. It’s all in fun, they said. I don’t have to get all angry about it. I said, “I’m not angry, but I need to represent my people who would find this question hurtful. Enjoy every minute with your grandchildren. Just be aware that some of us don’t have them. I’m jealous of everyone who does.”

Jealousy is my go-to response these days. I tell folks who are happy about their families that I’m jealous as hell. Period. Let’s move on.

There are so many people to whom it never occurs that some of us, for all kinds of reasons, never have the opportunity to have children. I feel a duty to let them know. More than a fifth of us don’t have kids. They need to see that, acknowledge it, and maybe have a little bit of sympathy instead of closing the door in our faces.

Can I get an amen?

Have you found yourself in situations where you had to challenge the assumption that everyone has children? What did you say?

***

On the brighter side, something cool happened on Saturday when I was walking Annie on the next block. This Corgi named Winnie always comes waddling out on her short legs to greet us. She has the softest fur I have ever felt. On Saturday, she was accompanied by a group of little boys. The smallest one came running over to pet Annie with long slow strokes. Suddenly he turned from my dog and put his arms around me. He could only reach up to my hips. I was so touched. Then he ran back to his yard, but he stood there waving as we walked on.

“I’m Grandma Sue to the world, and I love it,” I told my deaf dog.

I promise you will reach a point where little ones are a delight and not just a cause of deep pain.

***

Here comes Mother’s Day again. Do whatever you need to do to nurture yourself on that day. Take a bubble bath. Or a hike. Buy yourself flowers. Dye your hair blue. Honor your own mother if she’s still around. Avoid social media and don’t put yourself in situations that will make you feel worse (Sunday brunch!!!). If you didn’t see it on the Childless by Marriage Facebook page, do listen to this Childless Not by Choice podcast, which offers great advice from 11 childless women about surviving the holiday. Host Civilla Morgan always makes me feel better.

Big hugs to one and all. Sue

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New Childless by Marriage Book Coming Soon

Love or children? Why would anyone have to choose? It’s like this giant secret that is right in front of everyone. One in five women and even more men don’t have children—at least not their own. For more than half of them, it was not by choice. Their partners a) never wanted children, b) already had kids from a previous relationship, c) never quite felt ready for parenthood, d) had had a vasectomy, or e) had fertility problems. They are forced to make a choice between this man or woman they love and the children they might have had.

Love or Children, which is in the production phase now and will be out in time for Christmas, features the best of more than 700 posts and comments from the Childless by Marriage blog. Although my name is on the cover, you readers have contributed a great deal to this book, often sharing things you wouldn’t tell anyone in person. Without you, it would be nothing. Don’t worry. I have maintained your anonymity, but your stories will be told.

Chapters look at how one becomes childless by marriage, how to decide whether to stay in a childless relationship or leave, how to deal with the grief that comes with giving up the dream of having children, how to respond to the hurtful things that people say, and lots more.

It’s important that as many people as possible read this book and maybe begin to understand what we’re dealing with. I will need your help spreading the word. I hope to make this fun. There will be swag, giveaways, videos, and more. Stay tuned.

If you haven’t read my previous Childless by Marriage book, order it now and catch up. The ebook is practically free.

*****

The coronavirus madness rages on. How are you all doing? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for those of us without children? I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews in over a year except on Facebook. Have you been able to connect with family, especially the young ones that might fill that childless hole in your life?

At this moment, we still don’t know who has won the U.S. presidential election, but people are about to explode from the stress. However it turns out, we’ll still be here for each other.

I’m still looking for guest posts to the blog. The guidelines are in the sidebar on this page.

Hugs,

Sue

Would You Wear a Ribbon for Childlessness?

CNBC Ribbon TransparencyDear readers:

How do you feel about wearing a ribbon showing the world that you are childless not by choice? Brandi Lytle of the NotSoMommy website and blog has asked if I would be willing to display this olive green ribbon in a show of sisterhood with hers and other sites for people who are involuntarily childless. Many of these sites focus on infertility. Here at Childless by Marriage, some of us are perfectly fertile but have other issues, such as uncooperative partners. So I said I’d ask you before I agreed to add the ribbon to my site. So far the ribbon is just a “virtual” one. There’s nothing to pin on our shirts, but Brandi is hoping to work that out.

Why olive green, you ask. Well, Brandi says, it’s not being used for another cause, it stays well away from the baby-oriented pink or blue, and she has found in her research that olive green is the color of peace and wisdom. “It does not stress the eyes, it relaxes the nervous system, calms the spirit, and enhances one’s mood and behavior, and studies show it can decrease fatigue, depression, and anxiety.”

Brandi continues: “Now, it’s time to start the campaign so that the Childless Not by Choice Awareness Ribbon will be recognized by our tribe, as well as the public. Fabulous ones, I pray our CNBC community connect with this new olive green awareness ribbon, share it on social media, and wear it proudly. Because we have endured much heartache and yet, are finding a way to create a new, beautiful and courageous existence. We should be proud of that! We should show the world what it really means to be childless not by choice…”

Read her whole post here.

Whether or not we go with the ribbon, I encourage you to explore Brandi’s NotSoMommy website. She has a great list of resources and a steady supply of engaging stories on her blog. Brandi’s on Facebook, too.

I’m not a real fan of ribbons and outward displays. If one were to wear an olive green ribbon, people would inevitably ask what it’s for, and then would come the questions we all hate. But perhaps in certain circles, it could be a wonderful sign of solidarity.

So, dear friends, what do you think?

***

While I was friending Brandi on Facebook, I saw that my stepdaughter’s son just got married. I watched the wedding video on Facebook. My husband’s ex and other people I don’t know were there. It was a small courthouse wedding. As far as I could see, the groom’s sister and uncles were also missing, but it still gives me a pang. I was part of the family for what feels like a minute (25 years), and now I’m not. Big sigh.

On to happier things!

My friend Theresa Wisner just published her book about her life working on fishing and research boats. Titled Daughter of Neptune, it’s wonderful. Check it out and enjoy this story of a childless woman who has made a fabulous life for herself.

Treasure the Childless Life You Have

Earthquakes in Mexico. Hurricanes and flooding in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other places, wildfires burning up the western United States, terrorist attacks everywhere. The news keeps bringing more shades of awful. Is the world ending or what? We’re safe so far on the Oregon coast, but the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the long-feared tsunami came today.

At the beginning of September, people now dealing with natural disasters had homes and jobs. They shopped, ate out, went to church, played sports, and made love. Now it’s all over. Many of those who survived have lost everything, including loved ones. Life is short and unpredictable, my friends.

A woman named Nita recently wrote on the Childless Not by Choice Facebook site that her husband had passed away this year at 64. A few months later, her sister-in-law died, and now her brother-in-law is dying, all of cancer, all too young. In the midst of her grief, she urged people, “Please make the most out of your lives now, do things you enjoy together, laugh together, love together, make amends with family members whether or not children are involved because after it is all over with, you won’t get another chance.”

She’s so right. We don’t know what’s going to happen. If we spend all our days grieving for what might have been, we never get around to appreciating what—and who—we already have. Sometimes we just have to curse a little and move on. You didn’t get the life you expected, but take a look at the life you have. Don’t waste it. I know how hard it is. I was mired in anger and self-pity for years. But give it a try. The water could rise or the earth start to shake any minute.

I hope you’re all okay. If you’re in one of the disaster zones, you’re in my prayers. Consider this: If you don’t have children to take care of, you’re freer to help those who do. Please be safe.

Me, I’m taking care of my dog, who is huddling close, frightened by the thunder and lightning happening right now in our first big storm of the season.

***

On a more cheerful subject, I leave for the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio in two weeks. Imagine a conference where nobody is talking about their kids because they don’t have any. I’ll be speaking about aging without children. If you have thoughts about what I should include, please share them in the comments. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, join us Oct. 6-8. Tickets are still available.