Advice for the Potentially Childless by Marriage

What would you tell a young person facing a childless-by-marriage situation? I was interviewed last night for the UnRipe podcast from Australia. Interviewer Jo Vraca and Mina  Sedgman kept asking me this question, pushing for a concrete answer. What I wanted to say was “I don’t know” or “Every situation is different.” I said, “Talk about it,” “Make a conscious decision,” “Don’t do what I did.”

I felt like what I did back in my 20s and 30s was so wishy-washy. I never made an actual decision, even after we considered the options and Fred told me he really didn’t want to have any more children. I never told him, “Hey, I really want to have children and you need to step up.” I never said, “Okay, if I marry you, I accept that I will never have my own children.”

I just went ahead and got married, tried to bond with his children, and gradually decided I had been ripped off. I had not. I was just doing my usual denial of facts. Way too many Disney movies had convinced me that if you just wish hard enough for something, it will come true. Queue the music for “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Sometimes you don’t get your wish. I don’t think I really got that until I was in my 50s, when menopause, my mother’s death, Fred’s fatal illness, and my father’s years of major health problems pushed all thoughts of parenthood way into the past.

So, now that I’ve had time to think about it, what would I advise?

1) Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. If you have always wanted children, start the discussions early. A few dates in, it’s okay to mention that you look forward to having children and ask how they feel about it. As the relationship progresses, keep checking in. As we have seen in many posts and comments here, people change their minds. You and your partner need to be a team, not adversaries.

2) If the person you’re falling in love with offers a hard no to kids and you can’t stand the idea of never having them, walk away. I know that’s hard. In the interview, they asked me if I thought about walking away from Fred. I did not. I was obsessed with my career, and I had my stepchildren, who I thought would fill the gap. I was so in love and so sure no one else would ever love me like he did that leaving didn’t seem like an option. But it was. I was 33 when we got married; I still had time. I was wrong to think I’d been ripped off. Consciously or not, I chose this. So I advise you to make a conscious choice: Is this a deal-breaker? Then go. Are you willing to live with it? Then stay. I know many of you feel trapped, but you do have a choice.

3) Having children is huge, but many of us are called to do other things with our lives. Consider what else you are besides a potential mother or father. What talents and interests can you pursue full out without the constraints of parenthood? Consider the possibilities instead of the impossibilities.

4) If you accept the childless life, let yourself grieve the loss of the life you thought you would have. Don’t be silent about it. Tell your mate, family and friends what you’re dealing with, and don’t let them shame you into thinking you’ve done something wrong or that you have no right to grieve.

Dear readers, having come this far in your childless journey, what would you advise someone facing a similar situation? What would you do now if you had it to do over again?

My interview on the UnRipe podcast will be online shortly. I’ll let you know where to hear it. My thanks to Jo Vraca and Mina Sedgman for a fabulous conversation and for their continuing efforts to support childless women.