Two weeks ago on the blog, I wrote about Steph Penny’s situation. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The risk of trying to have a baby was so great she and her husband were forced to choose a life without children. In her book Surviving Childlessness: Faith and Furbabies, she wrote about her choice and many other aspects of childlessness.
One of the many passages that struck me in this book talked about how it feels to watch your partner go without children because of your problem. Steph describes that on page 12:
“It hit my husband, too. He had wanted children even more than me, so it affected him greatly. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about that. I still do. I had always thought my husband would make a superb father. Not being able to give him this gift was almost more than I could bear.”
She adds that it was her husband’s idea to dedicate her book to the two children they named but never had.
Guilt. Imagine you have an illness, a fertility problem, a children-from-a-previous-marriage problem or can’t for whatever reason give your partner the children he or she longs for. You hear them weeping when they think you don’t notice. You see them flinch when someone announces they’re having a baby. You see them turning red as they remain seated when all the mothers or fathers are invited to stand for a blessing at church on Mother’s or Father’s Day. You watch them fumble for an answer when strangers ask, “How many children do you have?” or “Hey, when are we going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet at your house?” You see the pain in their eyes when their parents play with their siblings’ children and they will never play with theirs.
Maybe you can’t help the situation. Your physical or emotional problems are not going to go away. You can’t produce sperm or eggs where there are none. All you can offer is to step aside and let your loved one find someone else who can give them children, but if you truly love each other, isn’t that asking too much? Maybe all you can offer is sympathy, a shoulder to cry on, and an explanation to those nosy people who press for answers as to why there are no babies at your house.
I know my husband felt bad. He saw me see-saw between anger and grief and knew it was his fault. He heard me trying to deflect the questions about when I was going to have a baby. He saw me trying so hard to bond with his kids. After his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, before he went deep into dementia, he probably worried about me being alone.
But none of that changed the fact that he had had a vasectomy and was so much older than me that he didn’t want to start over with a baby. Nor did it change the fact that he and his wife had so much trouble conceiving that they adopted their first two children, finally having a bio child after 17 years of marriage. Mostly likely we would have had trouble, too. He couldn’t help it.
He loved me, and he saw how much it hurt. In marrying me, he took away my dream of being a mother. The guilt must have been tremendous. As was my grief. Just yesterday, watching a baby born on a TV show, I sobbed so hard it hurt. After all these years.
We stayed together because the love was greater than the grief or the guilt.
How about you and your partner? Does the one who didn’t want or couldn’t have children feel bad about it? Do you talk about it? What can you do to make it feel better? Is the love strong enough to overcome the other feelings?
I welcome your comments.
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