Navigating the emotional journey towards being happy in a life without children involves a process of grieving. When individuals who have struggled with infertility face a life without children, it’s usually by default. It’s a loss of their dream. They often feel depressed, and their anguish is often, rarely understood. Outsiders incorrectly assume that people without children have chosen not to have them.
Many people, especially women, connect their value in life with the activity of parenting. Society esteems and rewards those who raise children, often ignoring those who pursue other paths to form a worthwhile life. But it is precisely this step in the direction of another path that one must take when moving toward resolution.
When you move in the direction of living without children, you may want to consider where you will direct the energies that you would have used to parent your child. Make an agreement with your spouse to identify and prioritize what each of you will agree to do to continue to nurture these maternal/paternal instincts. Give each other the space to grow and pursue these feelings.
Myths and Facts
There are many misconceptions and myths about finding resolution through the option of childfree. If you are in the fact finding stage, read on as we debunk common myths surrounding childfree and break down the facts.
Myth: Remaining childfree means remaining just as heartbroken as we are right now.
Busted: Only part of your current pain is from actual lack of a child. Some of it is part of a grief process you’re in the midst of. Another part is the maddening uncertainty of whether or not you will ever get to be a parent.
Myth: A Childfree life is an empty life.
Busted: Living childfree is empty for the couples who do not find new interests. Childfree people fill their lives with work, hobbies, artistic endeavors, political causes and they also fill them with children! Children involved in organizations such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Scouts, etc.,
Myth: Childfree living is never a choice if you are infertile.
Busted: Certainly for many people, alternatives such as adoption, donor insemination, and in vitro fertilization are preferable. For those couples, childfree living would be the end of the road. For some couples however, those who are forced to re-examine their values, remaining childfree is a good decision. For them it is the next best thing, right after biological parenthood.
Myth: If I remain childfree, I’ll feel emotionally wounded every time I see a child.
Busted: Once they have grieved and made a definite decision to remain childfree, couples tend to feel occasional twinges of sadness, but no more stabbing pain.
Myth: Aren’t people who remain childfree selfish and immature? Aren’t their marriages unhappy?
Busted: Extensive psychosocial studies have found childfree couples to be just as happy as couples with children. And contrary to the stereotype of selfishness, a high percentage of childfree people are teachers, social workers, or people who spend their weekends doing volunteer work with children or for a social cause. It’s far more common for selfish, immature people to have children for selfish, immature reasons.
Myth: If we remain childfree, I’ll be unhappy in my older years.
Busted: Children are no insurance policy against loneliness in old age. You can’t be sure what old age will be like. You can’t be sure children would live near you, get along with you or be a comfort.
Myth: We’ll feel like fools if we decide to remain childfree after all of that trying.
Busted: No one else can decide for you whether adoption or childfree living is right for you. It’s your life. You have the right to decide what to do with it. Deciding not to have a child does not take away the meaning of those years of trying. The two of you shared something important together, and if you’re like most couples, you’re coming out the other end more skilled at talking to each other, more aware of your values, and more appreciative of each other. You have the right to shift gears.
Myth: If we remain childfree, we’ll be sorry later
Busted: Of course there will be days when you wonder if you would have been happier if you’d made another choice. Everyone wonders. Remember that infertile couples who adopt or choose donor insemination, etc. will also wonder. The fact that whatever you choose was your second choice after you didn’t get pregnant adds poignancy to the question.
Personal Story: A Family of Two
My husband and I struggled with infertility for several years. I going to say “on and off” for several years, but even when we weren’t “trying” there was always the hope that I might get pregnant.
I have unexplained infertility – no reason was discovered for my inability to get pregnant. After six failed procedures, and one miscarriage at 11 weeks, we decided to take a break. We wanted our lives back. We were stressed out and exhausted from all aspects of treatment: injectable medications, the monthly anticipation and resulting disappointment with each failed pregnancy test and the cost.
During this break I joined a mind-body group. The stated goal of the group was not to achieve pregnancy, but rather to regain a sense of control, to de-stress, to come together with other women and couples who were also struggling with infertility and talk about our experiences, learn coping techniques and have an emotional outlet. I was very angry and very sad. I felt like my body, which was created to bear children was defective – that I was defective. I felt guilty that I was letting my husband down (he didn’t make me feel guilty, I brought that on myself). I remember spending time with girlfriends and their new babies and young children and feeling like “the girl without a baby.” I had a hard time attending baby showers, christenings and celebratory, baby-centric events. In the group I learned relaxation techniques including meditation, which helped me to being to let go of the anger, the guilt, the sadness and the pain. I started journaling. The mind-body group was life-changing.
The decision to remain childfree evolved. As I mentioned earlier, it started as a much needed break from treatment. We tried it on, and it seemed like it might fit. As time went on, we thought about and talked about the option of continuing this way. I saw a therapist who specialized in working with infertile women and couples, and she helped me explore this further. Remaining “childfree” – a term neither my husband nor I really like – seemed like a viable option.
I refer to us as a “family of two.” It’s a more positive and accurate description of who we are. Family is important to us. My husband has five siblings, and I have three; we have 19 nieces and nephews. We love spending time with them, and we also treasure spending time together and with our large network of friends. Interestingly, many of our friends, who we have known for years, don’t have children for one reason or another. And, of course, many do.
There are certainly many positive things you can identify about not having children, including financial aspects and independence. Those didn’t guide our decision, however, which wasn’t always easy, even after we were resolute that it was right for us.
Just as my experience with infertility was a journey, so too is the decision to live our life without children of our own. Along the way a sense of control returned to my life. Infertility brings with it a sense of powerlessness. Each month another treatment cycle is attempted, and you hope for the best, knowing you have little or no control over the outcome.
Making this decision was empowering.
It is the first step in a process, the first step in allowing myself to begin to answer the question “supposed I didn’t have children, what would that be like?” The answer continues to unfold everyday.
Contributed by: Jennifer Richmond
What does resolution involve?
Resolution often involves couples building children into their lives: relatives, children of friends, children in need in the community. They appreciate that their involvements enable them to be free to do other things while maintaining a balance in their lives.
Living without children is an opening into a world of possibilities. There’s a reinvigoration of connections with people. You begin to feel whole again. You may experience a sense of liberation. Suddenly they see a dazzling array of life’s exciting possibilities, some of which wouldn’t be possible with a child. As this realization sinks in, a huge surge of energy and excitement often is released. There’s a re-engagement with life broader than engaging solely with an individual child. Many people become more creative.
With this release, people move beyond their grief over the loss of their dream. They put their energy into what excites them about their lives: work, extended family, other children, friends, community service, travel, their interests and passions. They use their money for life’s pleasures or for charity.
By shifting their perspective on life, they realize that their sense of vitality as people can get passed on to one person or it can get passed on to the world and the culture in a variety of ways. One woman said, “I used to think that the only way it really made a difference that you were here on earth is to have children. I don’t think that any more. There are lots of paths.”
In accepting a life without children, you learn to live your life looking forward rather than looking back. With emotional resolution, reminders of the lack of children, such as anniversaries of miscarriages, no longer have a sting. It’s important to look forward with happiness and value, no matter what’ s in your life: children, job, or marital status.
For some, the emotional resolution leads to a spiritual expansion. There’s often an expanded feeling of love, accepting the whole world as our family rather than the modern narrowing to the very few people with whom we feel connected. One woman expressed this transition. “When I’d wanted a child, I thought that the emotional tie with a child was the only route to deep happiness and human connection. It is one way, probably the most common way. But it’s only one way. We can create others.”
Our heart’s journey teaches us that our life’s dream of “family” can assume many forms. When you’re young, you dream that you’ll reach all your goals. In midlife, you face your dashed hopes and dreams such as: children, a knight in shining armor, fame, or career goals. You grieve these losses and accept your life as it is, along with the choices that you’ve made in the past that led to this situation. You make peace with your life and yourself.