In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:
“First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.”
In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.
So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay, say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?
Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.
Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.
So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?
My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.
How far would you go to have children? What would you be willing to sacrifice? A reader who is calling himself Anonymous Max has commented several times on my Sept. 27 post “Are You Ready to Accept Childlessness?” For him, the answer is clearly no.
AMax has two stepchildren, but he does not feel like a father to them. He has tried mentoring and working with other people’s kids, but it’s the not same. He will not be happy until he has his own biological child. Following a miscarriage and years of trying, he and his wife have realized they won’t be able to have children in the usual way, but he’s not giving up. He plans to hire a surrogate to bear their child, implanting sperm and egg into another woman’s body. To afford it, he is working three jobs and investing as much money as he can.
The cost of surrogacy varies. Estimates online range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance is unlikely to cover it. A lot of emotions become involved when you’re asking someone else to carry your baby and give it up when the pregnancy is over. AMax says his wife was hesitant at first, but is “on board” now. It’s a difficult path, but they’re determined to take it. I hope AMax will keep us informed about what happens.
Most often here, people ask about whether or not to leave their partner to find someone who will have children with them. Leaving someone you love is a huge sacrifice and an equally huge risk. What if you never find a new partner? What if it’s too late to get pregnant when you do?
“Lifeasitisbyme” reported recently that her husband is divorcing her so she can go have children with someone else. She says, “I’m completely heartbroken as I still love him. He doesn’t feel it’s fair that he’s holding me back on having a family and doesn’t feel he’s been fair to me. At this point I’m confused. I love him dearly and I’ve started to wonder if having children is more important than losing my soulmate.”
What if your spouse or partner suddenly said, “I’m letting you go. You need to have children and I can’t give them to you.” What would you do?
Is your need to have children so strong that you will sacrifice anything to be a mom or dad? Do you want it as bad as AMax? Do you feel guilty if a voice inside says, “I’m not sure.”
Think about it, friends. Perhaps it will answer some questions for you.
In the wake of the NotMom Summit, I have added some new books and websites to the resource page. Clink on the link at the top of the page to check it out.
Readers: Today we have a guest post by Sharilee Swaity who has published a new book about second marriages. See the link at the end of this post. I already ordered my copy. I think you’ll like this post and you’ll probably have few things to say about it. Enjoy.–Sue
First, I just wanted to thank Sue so much for allowing me space on her blog to share my story. I have been reading “Childless by Marriage” for a few years now and it was the only place that seemed to understand my feelings on this topic. This is the story of how I came to a greater place of acceptance regarding my spouse’s decision to not have children again.
He was Sorry
One sweltering summer evening, not too long ago, I looked over at my macho husband as he lay quietly on our bed. With tears in his eyes, he told me he was sorry. That he loved me and knew I deserved children but he just couldn’t do it. This time I listened and finally believed him.
The “having kids argument” had been a constant in our marriage, pulled out of the closet once every two or three months, a battle with no winners and sure tears, hurt feelings and harsh words.
My tirade was sometimes triggered by the sight of a friend with eight kids bragging about their latest escapades. Or the changes in my body that signaled I was getting closer and closer to that time when having children would no longer be an option. Sometimes it was brought on by the difficulties of step parenting his children, a reminder of the lack of my own.
I would come to him, irate, pleading with him, “Don’t you love me? Don’t I deserve children, like every other woman?” My husband would look sad, avoiding my gaze and sitting quietly, his head hanging in shame.
Despite the hurt I saw on his face, the words would always spill out, the darkest thoughts of my heart, that were usually kept tucked safely away.
I am Childless By Marriage
You see, my husband has kids. I do not. I am, as the title of this blog so aptly describes, “childless by marriage.” I have stepchildren, whom I have taken as my own, but they are not mine. I love them dearly but they are their mom’s. And their Dad’s.
When my husband and I got married nine years ago, it was with the understanding that my husband was not able to have any more children because he was not physically able. It was a second marriage for both of us and he came into the marriage with children and a vasectomy.
When I found out about reversal surgery and came to an understanding that it would be theoretically possible for him to maybe have children, I asked him to undertake the procedure. He refused and I felt hurt and angry. Even though the chances of a successful reversal were almost nil and it would have cost $10,000 we did not have, I could not let it go, until that night.
What I came to realize in those few seconds that my husband pleaded with me, with pain in his gaze, is that not only is he physically unable to have children, but he is emotionally unable.
As a child, my husband went through a traumatic inter-racial adoption. He was ripped away from his biological mother at the point when he should have done his strongest bonding. After losing her at one year old, he did not meet her again until he was eighteen years old. He was adopted into a nice family, but he never felt quite connected with either family in the way that most of us take for granted.
Years later, he went through a divorce where he felt ripped away from his own children. Twice he lost a connection that should have been fundamental. Twice his heart was torn out of his chest. And he couldn’t do it again. For him, the thought of having children was irrevocably linked with certain loss.
His Pain Was Real
The moment I believed him, something changed in me and I saw beyond my own pain to see that his pain was devastatingly real, too. And I heard a still, small voice telling me to love him, embrace him. He was the one right in front of me that needed my love. There was no child–but there was him.
I saw with fresh eyes that his fear was just too strong. Just as I could never walk along the ledge of a vertical cliff, or enter a cave filled with bats, he can never again risk losing the most precious thing in his life.
I knew that I had to stop. Stop pushing him to do something that he couldn’t. Stop wishing for something that I didn’t have while ignoring the man that God had placed in my life.
What I saw in that moment of epiphany was that loving this man meant embracing him, fears and all. It meant accepting him, as he accepted me. I looked at him with eyes of compassion and felt a deep sense of connection with this man who loved me.
Does it mean I will never long for a child again or feel a wave of sadness when another acquaintance pops out a baby? Probably not. My own grief about missing out on children is complex and will probably still take time to work out. What it does mean, though, is that I intend to stop blaming him for my state. Blaming him for his brokenness. Blaming him for my own brokenness.
About the Author
Sharilee Swaity has been married to her husband for nine years now. She has two adult stepchildren and two cats. She spends her days writing and marketing her writing. Her book, “Second Marriage: An Insider’s Guide to Hope, Healing & Love” was published in April 2017, and is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99. The book focuses on helping couples who are in a second marriage work through some of the common issues such as healing from the past, accepting their situation and loving their spouse. Sharilee also writes at her blog, Second Chance Love.
To get her free mini eBook for connecting with your spouse when you have no time, sign up here.
Step-parenting can make you crazy, especially if you have never had your own children. You want your partner’s offspring to fill that baby-yearning hole in your life, but they have their own mother and father and you are neither one.
To them you’re a stranger who showed up late and wants to claim a family connection. You’re a lot like the substitute teacher who knows nothing about what they were doing with their regular teacher and whom they don’t have to obey because she’s only here for a few days. Your partner may or may not help you make the connection. He has known them longer than he has known you. They are flesh of his flesh—and you’re not. You come from a different family with different traditions and different memories. You’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit.
I’m not the only one who has called herself the Wicked Stepmother. Turns out that’s quite common. You just pray the kids laugh when you say it.
I have been looking through old files and just read through a fat one from my days when my youngest stepson lived with us, his older sister stayed with us intermittently, and his older brother lived in various places. It was tricky. I had the responsibilities of a mom, whether it was conferring with teachers, baking cookies for Boy Scouts, or taking my stepson to the doctor. We were tied down. If my husband and I wanted to go out, we couldn’t just leave him in the backyard with a bowl of water like a dog. We had to find a babysitter or stay home.
My friends insisted I claim motherhood on Mother’s Day. But to my stepson, I was just “Sue.” He resisted my attempts to hug him or to connect him with my own family.
Since my husband and his ex never officially changed the custody agreement, his real mom could reclaim him at any time. Besides, it was obvious I had no experience at being a mother and didn’t know what I was doing.
Reading my old journals makes me squirm. I sound resentful and selfish. “The kid won’t obey me.” “He wrecked my car.” “None of them remembered me on Mother’s Day.” “I’m trying to work, and I keep getting interrupted.” I’m human. I’m not Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” taking in all those kids with nothing but love and selflessness. But there were moments of love, too, times when I tearfully thanked Fred for giving me this family.
When you marry someone who has been married before, he or she will probably have children. He or she may not want anymore. They want you, but they don’t want to do babies again. Been there, done that. They are happy to offer you the children they already have, but it’s not the same, is it?
Today my stepchildren are all adults. The daughter is not only a mother but a grandmother. Since Fred died, we don’t talk; we Facebook. I’m proud of their accomplishments. I don’t know what our connection is now, if any, but I hope they know I tried. I really tried.
It’s not the same as having your own babies. That’s just not possible. But it’s something. As long as people keep getting married multiple times, stepchildren will be part of the picture.
Here’s an interesting report by the PEW Research Center on marriage and remarriage.
I have received a lot of comments lately about step-parenting. Previous posts on the subject include: “Stepchildren and Holidays Always a Tricky Mix,” “Must Childless Stepmothers and Their Stepchildren Hate Each Other?” “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” “Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right,” and “What Am I to My Stepchildren Now That My Husband has Died?” There are even more. Use the search box at upper right to find more posts about stepchildren or whatever you want to read about.
Let the conversation continue. How has it been for you?
When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.
The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”
Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.
I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.
Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.
Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?
http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.
http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.
So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.
I have been on the road again this week helping my father. He is 95 years old, and he broke his upper leg very badly in March. He went from the hospital to a terrible nursing home to a somewhat better one.
On Tuesday, we saw the orthopedic surgeon again. After three months, the leg still isn’t healing much, but the doctor believes the hardware he installed around the bones will hold him up. He says Dad can start walking with a walker AND he says Dad can go home. This young ortho expert doesn’t know what he’s saying. Dad lives alone. His will is strong, but his body is fragile. My brother and I both live far away. This situation is wearing us out. We’ll both be doing some commuting while we figure out how to get things organized. Moving Dad from his three-bedroom house in suburbia to some kind of senior residence would be much easier on us, but it’s Dad’s life, and he has the right to live it the way he wants to. He wants to go home.
I arrived in the middle of a heat wave. Driving Dad’s car through the horrible traffic in San Jose, sweating, tired and hungry, I told myself taking care of Dad–and my dog Annie, who just had knee surgery three weeks ago–is my job now. Perhaps I was denied motherhood so I could devote myself to caregiving for my husband and our parents. It’s not really what I want to do, but it’s the job God has given me. I would so much rather focus on my writing and music and maybe take an actual vacation. Someday.
Meanwhile, it’s that time of year when we’re forced to look at pictures of everybody’s kids in graduation gowns or on vacation. Babies seem to be everywhere. Right? And, those of us who have stepchildren may suddenly find them arriving for extended visits, disrupting our usually childless lives.
A 2012 post, “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” has drawn a barrage of comments this week. You might want to read them and join the conversation. Step-parenting is tough, and folks who think they’re a perfect substitute for having your own kids are wrong. It’s the not the same.
What do you think? What’s bugging you these days? Thanks for being here.