I always wanted to have kids. My first jobs were working with kids – I loved them, and when I got married (the first time), my ex-husband had three sisters and I became convinced I wanted a huge family with at least 4 kids.
THAT didn’t work out.
So here I am. 44 years old, and married without my own kids. I do have a 14 year-old step-son and nephews and a niece I adore.
It would be so easy for me to say that I/we are childless by choice and we’re happy that way, yay us, and let it go, but of course it’s more complicated than that. I wish I could say that Leo and I are ecstatically happy together and are completely satisfied focusing on each other and our marriage, but that would be BS (I really suck at relationships). I wish I could say I just never had the desire to be a mother, and wanted to put my career first. BS, again.
The truth is, it’s complicated. Sometimes things just don’t work out like you thought they were going to and you adapt. Sometimes you feel better about the direction your life is going than other times. Such is the nature of the journey…
By the time I met my husband, I’d already had three miscarriages. The dr told me next pregnancy would be considered “high risk” and there were things they could do to help my body carry to term, but it might not be “easy,” or even work. Truthfully, now that I try to remember it, I don’t recall how I felt about that last miscarriage. I think I was numb? I was disappointed, but I wouldn’t say devastated? Of course looking back, as a friend told me at the time, it turned out to be a “good thing” as it was a test of even further disappointment to come, because my ex-husband asked for a divorce. Nearly out of the blue.
I met Leo, my husband, pretty soon after my divorce (it happened REALLY fast) and we were hooked on each other from the start. He had just gone through a divorce also and had a 3 year old son, so we just enjoyed being all together for a while, and my “kid” urge was pretty much quenched spending time with Ethan, as well as my niece and nephew. It stayed that way for a while, and the idea of Leo and I having kids together never really came up in a serious way.
I think I was scared too. I didn’t want to go through another miscarriage. And, as is characteristic, after several failures, I tend to give up. The way I saw it, my body didn’t want a baby growing inside, so why should I try and force it? Of course, we know now (although still, not many women talk about it), that miscarriage is extremely common, and many women go through multiple before having a completely normal pregnancy.
But I also thought a lot about it. Because I was edging towards 40, I didn’t want to add risk on top of risk. And then on the other side of 40, I became really happy with my life, and honestly neither of us never got really excited about changing it, going through the process of trying to get pregnant and STAY pregnant. I didn’t want to do that, anyway. Vain, maybe, but at 40-41-42 I was just starting to get in the best health I’d ever been in in my life, and looked better than ever before; I didn’t want to wreak all sorts of havoc on my body trying to get pregnant.
Now, I suppose we are “childless by choice,” since we have made the decision not to try and have our own children. We have never ruled out adopting, which honestly is something I’ve always felt strongly about (in high school I told everyone I was not going to have biological children because I didn’t want to add to an already overburdened planet…) and have been interested in. Now is not the time. But whenever is? That’s what everyone says, you just have to do it and work out the details later (have children, that is). Or everything will fall into place. Who’s ever READY to have a child? Or so they say.
We are quite practical though, Leo and I, and at this point in our lives, don’t really want to “give up” the freedom and comforts that we have now to be “parents” – beyond what we are to his 14-year old son, who lives most of the time with his mother. Does that make us selfish? Yes, and no. I think you DO have to be ready to have a child, it takes a lot of work and energy, and money and time. It will change our lives so completely I’m not sure how it will look. Maybe better? At least that’s what everyone says. And maybe it will, and I would look back and say “best decision ever” like so many other women do, but when given the choice, and the ability to MAKE A DECISION, right now, I choose no.
I wonder though:
What am I missing? (this is the biggest concern/thought – that I’m missing out on some great secret that nearly EVERY SINGLE OTHER WOMAN ON THE PLANET knows, is life-defining, and the “best thing that’s ever happened”)
Who will take care of me as I age?
What if I’m making a mistake?
Am I a horrible person?
I also think:
Having a baby/child isn’t going to “fix” my life (which isn’t really broken, but I, personally, am not quite where I want to be spiritually) or give me purpose. Well, actually, yes, it will give me purpose, raising a child, but I don’t WANT that to be my purpose. I don’t want to just be “mom.” I am Grechen. The problem is sometimes I’m not sure who Grechen is. And sometimes I envy women with children because at least they can say, “I’m so and so’s mom.” But not knowing who “Grechen” is won’t come from becoming a mother. Unless it will. Maybe that is what I’m meant to be. Maybe not.
See? It’s complicated.
It is a big risk/chance to take, a child is not a purpose, or a plaything, or a placeholder. It’s not like you can just try being a mom and give up if you don’t like it. Or if it doesn’t “work out.” So I’m not at the point now where that’s something I want to experiment with. I don’t feel strongly enough about it. If I did, if I wanted more than anything to have a biological child, I would do whatever I could to make that happen. But I don’t.
Anyway, I’m not sure I could handle being a mom. I get so anxious and freaked out when Dagny is sick, and when Ozzie was going through his sickness at the end. I had a hard time even functioning I was so upset and antsy – my stomach was in knots all the time; I have an enormous amount of empathy and I feel it in my body. Can you imagine how I would be with a human baby? Basketcase.
And I know I would want to throw everything into raising a child. Not a bad thing, but that’s not what I WANT to do right now. I want to be me, have my business, and make a fulfilling life for myself. I want to travel more, visit my family more, and help others MORE.
But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that everything is always changing. Life is a journey without a destination. The journey I’m on right now, doesn’t involve children. In the future, maybe it will? Maybe it won’t. I look forward to finding out 🙂
*please share your story if you are so inclined, I would love to hear it. I will delete any comment I feel doesn’t add to a productive discussion though, be aware. And I don’t need to be convinced to change my mind, thank you.
thanks for sharing! we are childless by choice, and it still isn’t easy to come to terms with sometimes! now that I’m nearing 40 I am finally starting to own it with some pride, but for many years it was (and sometimes still is): what is wrong with us? who will care for us later in life? etc etc. the truth is, we are happy with how things are, have much more freedom to travel, take risks with our careers, and we have a dog baby (+ nieces and nephews) who we are mad about. but without role models to look up to (it’s amazing how few people i meet who are childless and plan to stay that way), it’s easy to feel broken. i do think about adoption one day too – my career makes me aware of the immense supports that foster care youth need – but i hope that i can be a role model for someone else when they, too, feel completely alone on this path. have you ever read/listened to interviews with rebecca traister? she talks about singledom by choice (more than childlessness) but i remember feeling much more empowered a few years back after listening to her on a podcast (i can’t remember which one).
thank you for sharing. these aspects of life are often shades of gray that are not always discussed, and should be. i really appreciate you doing so. it has given me some great food for thought.
Hi Grechen, Your post is so open and human and, although this subject is much deeper than, say an OOTD, you bring your true self to us. Thank you. It’s really a gift.
I have two biological sons. I have always been uncomfortable with women who decree that having a biological child is ‘it’ and ‘nobody’ can understand (especially men, but women as well). Each day I parented was a new day. Not unlike what you experience with Ethan (I imagine). The process of giving birth, while profound, hasn’t anything to do with parenting or being a parent.
Thanks (As Always),
Grechen Reiter says
wow, thank you for this dawn, what a wonderful reminder 🙂
Grechen Reiter says
agree – it’s quite complicated. but then again, why shouldn’t it be? why must we always talk in such black & white terms? it’s easier, i guess, but never really satisfying. i hope to keep talking about this, and my continued journey.
thank you for reading.
Grechen Reiter says
you know, i’ve steered clear of reading a whole lot from other women without children, just because i feel like often they take a holier-than-thou approach (or seem to be anyway) to not having children, or distill it down to such simple terms as “it would have messed up my career path” or whatever, which wouldn’t have any meaning to me.
nothing is so simple. i’m sure for some people it might be – i understand that some women just don’t have the desire at all, and some, that’s all they want. most of us fall somewhere in between, and we are the ones who get left out…
anyway, i’ll look into those interviews – i do think i’d like to explore more literature on the topic. and feel like i have some sort of community, even if it’s detached! and yes, it easy to second-guess, and feel “broken” as you say, without other women in the same situation to look up to, and relate to.
I so appreciate your honesty on this topic. I’m only 29, and my husband and I plan to try to have a child, but we aren’t ready now and probably won’t be for another 4-5 years, at least. I have gotten a lot of comments from well-meaning family along the lines of “you’ll never be READY to have a child!” and I always have to explain what I mean by ready – of course we’re not under the impression that everything will align just so and a child will fit into our lives seamlessly. But we do have to think about whether we can afford childcare and a bigger place to live, if our jobs allow for the type of parental leave we want, and whether we’ve had the experiences we want to have pre-child. I think that practical decision-making often falls to the wayside in favor of sentimentality when it comes to having children, so I appreciate your honest and practical take on this.
yeah, i hear you. and i realized i am actually not thinking of rebecca traister, but rather an interview with the author of “spinster” by kate bolick on dear sugar: http://www.wbur.org/dearsugar/2016/01/29/dear-sugar-episode-forty-one
just a compelling personal journey story – if you are a dear sugar fan, it’s a good one.
Grechen Reiter says
love dear sugar 🙂 haven’t listened in a while though, will definitely try this one!!
Hello Grechen, I really love this post. When I saw in a previous post that you were going to address this topic I was very curious about what you would say. You are so thoughtful and I appreciate so much how you are clear about the shades of grey; so many other people describe this topic in binary oppositions with no room for flexibility. I will turn 40 this year and I have two young children and my life is still full of shades of grey.
Thank you for this wonderful and honest post. A lot of great food for thought. When thinking about having kids I ran through a lot of the same questions in my mind. I think ultimately you can’t predict how things will turn out. Maybe you will hate being a mom, maybe your kid will hate you, it could be the best or worst thing to happen! Sometimes we just have to listen to our hearts.
Thank you for your honesty and bravery in talking about a topic that is deeply personal and often met with judgment and defensive language. My boyfriend and I are still quite young, 32 & 31 respectively, and while we plan to marry in the future, we don’t really want kids because we like our family dynamic as two. I think about it would be like to have a kid, sure, but I know that I’m perfectly content being childless and can still feel “whole”. I always feel awkward and sort of judged when people, however well-meaning, ask us about kids. I don’t know why people still seem puzzled that other adults don’t plan on having kids, like it’s an absolutely essential feature of adulthood. None of us don’t have to do anything that we don’t want to do, and I wish people would respect that more. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to have children or is childless but trying, and I think it’s best to be supportive, compassionate, and respectful when we listen to others’ stories. Thanks for sharing your story, and I look forward to reading more on your journey and your thoughts on this topic.
Countess Isadora says
Thank you for this, I know writing it wasn’t easy. I think this dialogue is so important.
My husband and I our childless by choice, partly because we weren’t 100% sold on the idea, and partly because that choice was made for us.
I love love love kids! My first jobs were babysitting , and I was a nanny for a little while, but I never quite could picture myself having any. My husband is not a fan of children. We joke that there are only 7 kids in the whole world that he loves, and he really only likes 3 of them(we have 7 nieces and nephews ) So going into marriage we were both sort of ambivalent about it. I always thought I would reach an age and my desire to be a mother would kick in. That was the natural order right, get married, check…have baby…check.
We had been married almost two years when he was in a terrible car accident that basically changed our life. Long story short, injuries that will never heal but he is much better than he was 10 years ago and better than he was 5 years ago. During this process my mind was focused on him and his long term well being, and what the future was going to look like for the two of us. It didn’t seem fair to bring a baby into such uncertainty, so I put it out of my mind. He got more functional as I entered my mid thirties, and I started thinking again about a baby. Did I want a baby? Or did I want to do all the fun things you do with a baby, and not the work? Did I want to have a baby or did I not want to feel left out because I was the only one in what seemed like the world without one? And what if I had a special needs baby to go along with my special needs husband? And I just decided to let it go. I figured the reason the “universe” “god” whatever never gave me a desire for kids is because it’s not my journey.
I do worry about who is going to take care of me when I get old, especially since my husband is 7 years older than me. I used to worry that I was missing out or that there was something wrong with me or if I was selfish, and now I know I’m having so many wonderful experiences I might not have had if I had kids, there is nothing wrong with me, and yes, I’m a bit selfish.
But sometimes when we are out and I see parents and kids doing something fun as a family, I get a little twinge and I wonder what if…but I try not to hang out there.
Thank you for this discussion & your honesty. I personally feel much more black & white on the topic (I have never wanted children, and despite near-constant “warnings” from friends and family that things would change at some point – when I meet the right guy, when I get married, when I turn 30 etc) at 43 (almost 44) I am happily married and childfree. It can be hard to know your heart – but even more difficult, it seems sometimes, to tell others that in fact you DO know what you want. Grr.
After I mentioned it last week, I went back to the library and checked out the collection of essays I mentioned, “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed” – 16 writers on the topic of how/why they don’t have kids. [the title mocks some of the popular press articles describing demographic changes in America] I certainly don’t feel selfish, shallow or self-absorbed for my decision not to have kids – but neither would I mock someone for making another choice! What I love best about my friends (with and without kids) is that we are accepting of each others’ differences and supportive, no matter what. It’s hard to find that, and I’m lucky to have kept many friends from high school & college, even if few live nearby….Oh, I’ve wandered far afield now…..
I’m just on the other side of 40 now myself, and after 8 years of marriage (and FINALLY an explanation to my infertility), my husband and I had a lot of heartfelt talks and decided to become foster parents three years ago. We ended up adopting our first placement (a beautiful handful of then-six-year-old boy I adore) and we now have an infant staying with us. And, y’know what? It’s wonderful, and exhausting. But I don’t feel that my life is any more “fulfilling” then it was. I don’t feel like I learned some magical secret when I opened our son’s birth certificate with my name on it (you’re issued a new one after adoption). Life is busier. I’ve adapted. I’ve found joy in our chaos. But I’m still me every morning, the same me I was before kids, well me with less free time. I guess what I’m saying is that motherhood is pretty great, but it was also pretty great when it was just the two of us. I don’t think people who haven’t raised a kiddo (although you definitely are helping raise the kids in your life that you love, even if you’re not the one tucking them in every single night) are missing out on some vital human experience, it’s just another path someone could take. And they’re all valid paths, and they can all be equally wonderful.
Grechen, this is so beautiful and honest; thank you for your willingness to share it. I think so many things about being women and having children are complicated, and everyone has a different experience with it all. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, and I have two young boys. I love them with all of my heart, but since having children, I’ve come to realize that it’s not the be all/end all that our society makes it out to be. My boys will grow up and have their own lives, so it’s important for me to have one, too. It’s taken me a long time to realize that, and I am still working on it. Like you said, life is definitely a journey. Thank you for sharing yours.
Rebecca N says
My story is very similar to yours. I was in a long term relationship when we tried to have kids. I had a number of miscarriages as well. I was generally devastated by them, but that was the decision making point for me. I needed to either get intense with medical treatments to have any chance or accept that I would not give birth to a child. I chose not to pursue having a child. From time to time I revisit the decision to see how I feel about it. I am now 44 and living happily and well. My previous relationship ended amicably. I met someone new with whom I have wonderful adventures that would be difficult if not impossible with children.
I think society lays out a path for people, more so for women than men, a path that includes becoming a mother. For me, the most difficult part of being without children is the expectation that this is the norm and I am somehow odd or lesser because this is not my path.
Thanks so much for publishing this post. It was affirming to read about you and others (in the comments) who have made this decision and to know that I am not alone in the choice nor the many thoughts that come from it.
Thank you for sharing your story–I’m sorry for the losses you experienced.
My husband & I have one child. It took two years for me to get pregnant, and I was told that we’d have a 2% chance of conceiving a child because of “unexplained infertility.” Oh, the advice and “encouragement” I received!
Nearly six years later, I became pregnant unexpectedly and miscarried at 17 weeks after learning that the baby had a heart defect. I felt a mixture of grief, relief, and guilt. The relief was mostly at not having to choose whether to work or be a parent–with two kids in daycare, it almost wouldn’t be worth working, and the quality of daycare available in our new state was abysmal. Then I felt guilty for feeling relieved.
It’s such a personal experience, and so complex. We need to stop judging ourselves, and each other.
Wow. This is such a tough subject. I was pretty ambivalent about having children. It was always something I thought I would do but didn’t feel a “calling” or overwhelming “need” to be a mother. I also have the same population issues you talk about. I am an only child and decided early on that if I did have children I would only bear one and adopt another. By the time my husband and I got married I was already 35 and we decided if we were going to have a child we’d better do it right away. We had an eight day-old son on our first wedding anniversary. We agreed to wait a year before deciding if we were going to add any more children to our family. Being a parent is the hardest job I’ve ever had and we did decide to stop at one (and believe me, I’ve heard all about how selfish I am for making that choice).
My son is now nine and I love him dearly. My husband and I still have a strong relationship and marriage. I am grateful for both of those things and I know they have impacted my life significantly. But I think I would still be okay if those things didn’t happen. There are no guarantees that my son will take care of me in my old age or of anything else.
Thanks for sharing with such honesty. My husband and I initially didn’t want children. One of our first conversations was about overpopulation and we also thought about adoption, but now I’m sort of into the idea of biological children after seeing close friends have children. But you’re right: it takes time and a certain giving up of self, which isn’t bad, just different. I’m 28, so I still have some time, but I worry that I need to have more of a plan. I don’t want to “miss my chance,” whatever that many mean.
Grechen Reiter says
thanks for sharing your story laurie – for me, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction “but who will take care of me when i’m older”? although i know there’s no guarantee that ANYONE will! or what will happen. or if I will NEED/WANT taking care of. it’s just such a fear, dying alone, or “lonely” that it really hits me hard when i let it…
I was sorry to read about your struggles. It’s one of those things in life that you never quite understand .. .. but the best we can do is come to terms with it and live the life we’re given 🙂
Grechen Reiter says
thank you thank you thank you for sharing.
absolutely we need to stop judging ourselves and others. mostly stop being so hard on ourselves. we feel what we feel.
Grechen Reiter says
i love this so much.
thank you .
Grechen Reiter says
i am so lucky i’m beginning to see, that i didn’t have constant pressure from family/friends/whatever to have kids. i didn’t get married the first time though, until i was 28 or 29 (can’t remember LOL) anyway, so maybe they’d already given up on me.
anytime anyone challenges the norms, and having kids is a HUGE NORM, maybe THE BIGGEST NORM THERE IS, people get very confused and don’t know how to deal with it – so they try and change it. so annoying 😉
Grechen Reiter says
i am so grateful to you for sharing this. thank you. i have thought the same things – especially the Fear of missing out, and wanting to do the fun things you do with a baby without doing all the work LOL – not great reasons to have a baby…
and yes, i am beginning to think it might be “normal” to get a little twinge every once in a while, and wonder what if, but as you say, we don’t need to hang out there.
Grechen Reiter says
i get so frustrated with that old “you’re never ready” standby, like it’s a BAD thing to try and prepare yourself and your life for bringing a child into the world. if ever there’s something to be prepared for…
Oh I understand. A small part of why I left my previous career and moved back to my hometown was to be closer to my parents for when they need me (see above: only child).
We’re all doing the best with what we’ve got and the choices we’ve made. 🙂
I really love this post. I felt like you were writing what was in my own heart. The only difference is, I am not married and never have been. I am also ten years younger. There is a part of me that feels like I might be missing out on something, that I might be letting fear ruin my life. But at the same time, there is a part of me that knows that I would probably not be the best mother, that raising a child alone is extremely difficult, and that no matter how badly I wanted to do right by my child, I will fail. Every day. I am also a basketcase about my pets and cannot imagine how I would feel if something happened to my actual human child. But then I think maybe a child would force me to be a better person and a good mother, to overcome my anxiety, etc etc. But is it a child’s job to do that? That doesn’t seem fair to a tiny little person who didn’t even ask to be born.
A lot of my concern too stems from that fact that I had a terrible relationship with my father. It affected me deeply, it still does. It is part of who I am, but sometimes I really wish it weren’t. I feel like relationships would be much easier for me if I didn’t automatically distrust every man I meet. Even if I was a wonderful mother, I can’t control what the father does. Even if I get married and we have a child, people get divorced. And the idea of raising a little girl into a woman with the same father issues I have is unbearable to me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, let alone my own child.
I never told a soul, but I had a one-night stand last year and became pregnant (despite using protection). I ended up miscarrying before I had to make the decision but a part of my wanted to keep that baby, even though I knew it would be hard. Then when I lost it I felt like it just wasn’t meant to be.
So I too am “childless by choice,” but it is also so much more complicated than that.
Thank you for writing this post.
I’m one of those oddities – a woman who has never had any desire for children at all (I think my biological clock isn’t just broken, it’s apparently smashed beyond all recognition – haha). I’m married, and in my 40s, and haven’t actually had thoughts about missing out. I really dislike all the usual reasons given to pressure people to have kids such as you’ll regret not having kids when you’re older, you’ll need someone to take care of you when you’re older (I work in healthcare and have many stories of people who had kids, but were all alone), you’re not truly an adult until having kids, you can’t know true joy until having kids, etc. I think it’s really difficult for most people to understand that someone actually CHOSE not to have kids, and if you admit that it’s not due to infertility, timing (such as wanting to be married before having a child), etc., in my experience, you’re looked at as if there has to be something horribly wrong with you.
The comments from people about “never being ready” to have kids, so you should just go ahead have them always bothered me also. While every single person I know who is childless by choice has given it a huge amount of thought, I often think that many people (many I know at least) give more thought to buying a car than to having a child. Because it’s just expected that at some point, everyone will have kids!
Anyway, I’d recommend the book Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed as well. I’ve also read many other books on the subject which I thought were really good (I practically have a small library of books regarding the decision to have children or not if you need more recommendations – haha).
Wow-I am so humbled by everyone who commented and your reply to all us and all of your writing is so honest and just you.
Now that I’m 53 and have been a teacher for 17 years my idea about having children has changed. In my 30’s and 40’s when people would ask me when I was having kids I would say, ‘teaching is the best birth control.’
I think when you decide to have children you have be the right person and you have to meet the right person. I met my bf in my early 40’s and wasnt ready, by 45 I had no eggs left and was starting to go through menopause. Lately Ive been looking for a bigger place so I can foster to adopt. I would be thrilled with a child who could flush, tell me what they want for supper and put their stuff away.
Sending you love Grechen!
Dacy Gillespie says
This is basically what I wanted to say too. I never felt “ready”, my husband and I made an intellectual decision to have a child, and we were lucky not to have any problems. Someone had told me while I was trying to decide whether to have kids or not that it was like their life was in black and white before kids and in color after. That has NOT been the case for me. It’s been good and bad on both sides. Thanks for sharing your story, Grechen.
Thank you so much for this post and thanks to everyone for the comments. I’ve spent the past five or so years really grappling with my lack of interest in having children and it’s been very helpful and interesting to hear other women’s stories about choosing or not choosing motherhood.
While I think that on some level I always knew that kids weren’t for me, I spent years entertaining the idea of “someday,” believing I’d get the urge as I got older or when I met the right person. When that urge failed to come and a relationship ended in part because of that, I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was wrong with me. I felt so much pressure to WANT children. And I want to want children, for some absurd reason, but I just dont. I made a lot of mental pro/con lists trying to talk myself into wanting it and felt like a terrible, selfish person when I realized that my top reasons for having kids would be purely ego and fear-based: what am I missing, will I regret it when I’m too old to do something about it, will (more) men reject me because of this, who will care for me when I’m old. Not exactly the best reasons for bringing life into the world. Besides, I could find way more reasons to just stay the course I’m on.
Truth is, I was never a baby person, or even a kid person, even when I was a kid. My own mother, who is very, very good at being my mother, never had the urge for babies until the decision was made for her, so I thought that maybe I’d be like that; I’d find myself pregnant and know that’s what I wanted to be doing. Maybe I will be like that. I’m coming up on 37. There’s still time, I guess. I don’t think I’d be particularly awful at being a mother, nor do I think I’d hate it. I just don’t think I want to do it. And I think I was a waffling ambivalent about it for so long because the expectation that I’d have kids someday was so engrained in my psyche that it took some time to realize that remaining childfree was a valid, active choice I could make.
Admitting to myself that I wasn’t going to choose to have children was a pretty difficult process to go through, but after all that, I look at it as any other choice I’ve made when I’ve come to a fork in the road. Life just could have been different. Maybe better. Who knows.
I came across this Dear Sugar column a few years ago, after I had become much more comfortable with myself and this decision. I wish that I would have found it years earlier. I relate so very much to the question and the response is perfect. I go back to it occasionally because reading it brings me an enormous sense of okayness and peace
Thanks again for such an honest post
Thank you for sharing your story! Your thoughts and the comments generated here helped me a lot. I’m 31 and not married. My BF is ambivalent about this issue and every woman in my life wants to have children or already have children, so I felt a bit alone in my inclination to go child free. It is reassuring to have female role models out there that are child free for any reason and willing to talk about it. I read a psychological study somewhere that surveyed women who were child free by choice and the study found that most women who fall into this category knew they did not want children from an early age and that they valued peace and quiet in the home environment much more than women who want children, and I think that is exactly who I am. I certainly want others and especially my family members to procreate and I genuinely celebrate the event of children being born, but don’t think it’s something I need or want to do. I get so much fulfillment from living, learning, thinking, and connecting with others in my everyday life and work now and don’t want to change that. I was also struck by your question of ‘who Gretchen is’. And my reaction was: Gretchen just is! You are as you are. I meet a lot of elderly people in my work in the healthcare field and have come across plenty of elderly people with and without children. Those without children don’t seem to be any worse off. I also worry about the state of our planet in the next 100 years and worry that my children will be suffering immensely due to environmental problems. There are always home health aids when you are old and frail and senior living centers if you need help. And I think old people in the future (us) will be more engaged technologically and still be able to find human connection in so many other ways despite their physical disabilities, and we won’t be as alone as the elderly generations before us.
This topic is so personal, yet is oddly public as a woman. I have always (well from kindergarten on) wanted to adopt. No amount hormones or time have changed that. Apparently I knew early on that my genes didn’t need to be passed on, as I was diagnosed with genetic condition a few years ago (any child would have a 50% chance of getting it and there is no genetic testing available). The condition has since rendered me disabled which has forced me to acknowledge that I might not be able to handle being a parent at all. My husband and I got a puppy this year and while exhausting, I have realized that I do have a stronger drive to parent than I previously thought.
Luckily there isn’t much pressure surrounding grandchildren, as my cousin has a toddler, and my brother and sister in-law are in second grade (my mother in-law had my husband while she was in college and had twins while we were in college). Between in-laws and my mentee (currently in 5th grade), I have my share of kid action. Maybe my health will stabilize in the future and I might become a parent, but I try not focus on the issue. For now I am good with the kids I have in my life, and the furry one I have at home.
So much of what you wrote spoke directly to me. This:
“We are quite practical though, Leo and I, and at this point in our lives, don’t really want to “give up” the freedom and comforts that we have now to be “parents” – beyond what we are to his 14-year old son, who lives most of the time with his mother. Does that make us selfish? Yes, and no.”
I hate that it is even considered selfish NOT to have children. It’s not selfish. It’s selfless. You are selflessly protecting the planet, you are selflessly leaving yourself open to take an unwanted child some day, if you choose. Sometimes (like me), you know that you may not be equipped mentally to parent. And it is often very selfish to have a child. As I was reading along with what you wrote and waving in the air at so many of the points, I thought about the reasons that I have wanted to have a child. To carry on my genes (selfish). Because I have names people (selfish). To have someone to be there for me unconditionally (not necessarily selfish, but also not necessarily true – they could die, they could not like me, they could want to lead their own lives). It’s just as selfish, if not more so in many cases, to have a child. I hate when it’s framed that people that are happy with no children are selfish.
Anyways, what you wrote spoke to me and described the mental gymnastics that I go through day after day as the window to have my own biological child comes closer to closing.
I empathize with your story because up until age fifty I was set in my decision – never felt that maternal streak although, oddly, I am seen as a nurturing person. I now recognize my feelings as fear. My husband (we both had previous childless marriages) and I married in our forties. He wanted to have children but not a burning desire so it seemed we shared the same world view. As I reached age fifty, he asked me if we could adopt a child – something he longed for. Because of my concern for and commitment to him, I took a leap of faith and adopted two infants (same time – long story) from Vietnam well into my 50th year. Keeping this short – the best decision of my life. Now they are sixteen and fill me with joy – they are fun, unconditionally loving, and have made us a terrific family. All of this despite the sacrifices, despite the hardship and incongruities (e.g. going through menopause with infants in the house) – so my only insight is to carefully look at what is holding you back and make peace with your decision either way. This from someone who never examined the why but the leap of faith more than worked out. Looking in the rear view mirror, it did give a deeper meaning to a life that was just fine without kids (we have money, leisure, travel, art, laughter, interests, fulfilling careers so it did not fill a void) With no experience with children and still somewhat reluctant, it was tough to travel internationally amidst other adoptee parents who were giddy with happiness. Thank god it all came together – I am not a baby person – that phase was hard but not impossible. As soon as their little personalities came out – I became smitten with them and fierce in my mothering. But I stand with you on your choice and ultimately finding peace – the world is made up of all types of family units PS We have always had two dogs so I understand they also make a family!
I wanted kids and looked forward to having a family from a young age. Then I began a 20 year relationship, from college to my early 40s, where kids weren’t gonna happen. The reasons why are as much his story as mine so I won’t get into that here. I’ve never even been pregnant or thought I was pregnant. Then we divorced and I had a rebound relationship (it lasted 5 years) that wasn’t the right match (he ended up treating me very badly and there was a ton of drama). During that relationship I had a permanent procedure done so I couldn’t (I was about 42). I was too tired at this point to even think of having a baby, especially with the very strong possibility I would do everything (care and financial). I think of my whole life has a choice now, where as before I felt like it just happened. Not making a choice to adopt or push harder for counseling or leave a relationship that wasn’t right sooner was a choice. I don’t expect others to view their history in the same way but for me thinking that way has made me become more intentional in my life now and surprisingly less regretful/sad for what could have been as it also brings to light why I took those paths. I’m surprised when people make assumptions about why I’m childless, assuming my situation was similar to yours or that I don’t like children or never wanted children. I noticed you didn’t have children but made no assumptions why as I know from my own story there are a myriad of reasons and like many things in life it’s often more than one reason. It’s complicated. And throughout our lives the reasons are fluid and change. Thank you for sharing your story in such a thoughtful way. I don’t often see how it feels to be without children discussed and sometimes feel many people don’t truly “see” those without children, the feelings are dismissed because it is assumed our lives are easy. In some ways easier yes but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bowl of cherries.
One sentence in your post has stuck in my head: “And, as is characteristic, after several failures, I tend to give up.” From your writing, I see a person who doesn’t give up: a person who has kept more than one blog going for years and years, when most bloggers fade out in the first year. I see someone who just celebrated a big Pure Barre milestone.
I endured secondary infertility and one of the most toxic things about the whole infertility culture is the notion that a woman should pay-any-price-bear-any-burden for pregnancy or motherhood. We stopped trying before we’d run out of the medical options, but we’d completely exhausted ourselves and our emotional/relationship resources. We couldn’t even talk about adoption at that point. I honor and respect women who do whatever it takes, because it can take more than anyone can reasonably bear. But I also honor and respect women and their partners who say, “This far, and no further.” Three miscarriages and a divorce (and two divorces between you) are a lot to heal from. I look at that and don’t see giving up after failure, but as redirecting your energies to healing your body and your spirit, and giving yourself fully to your new relationship with your new husband.
Lovely post! I’m just entering adulthood but for now I decided that I don’t want to have children, I wanted to focus on my career, my job, my future, on me; but as you said, everything is always changing, maybe today or tomorrow I won’t want kids but in ten/twenty years I will crave for a baby, who knows. I think of adopting too but that will depend of my economic status in the future and if I still want to adopt a kid in the future.
I am an adoptee with biological children and I absolutely agree with you Dawn. May I add that I don’t think it’s healthy for a parent to focus all their life force, pride and joy in their children (I had a hard time when the kids left, and I had hobbies, worked at my dream paying job, and had children who had always been very independent — but it still hurt), or alternatively to have expectations about how they will relate to you as a child or adult (your children will love you, or not, in a way of their own choosing, and cannot be depended upon to “take care” of you as might envision as you age. Even with the best of intentions, they may have their own issues.) Children are neither an obligation nor a panacea. The choice to have them or not, or how to have them, is entirely personal and should be respected and, hopefully, celebrated.
Good for you, Jen. You sound very wise to me. As a sage once said (more or less) on having children: lots of work, some joy 😉
Grechen Reiter says
thank you for this jennifer. for pointing out what i could not see myself, and for sharing your journey. i am so grateful.
Grechen Reiter says
thank you as well jenn – for sharing and adding to the discussion. i’m blown away by the comments and conversation here, i feel so much less alone. hopefully you do too 🙂
I just want to say that I completely agree with Jennifer’s comment. Thank you for writing about this, Grechen.
A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing this so honestly. I live a very different live, I had my first daughter with 26 (while finishing med-school), now I am 34 and pregnant with my fourth child. I always knew, that I wanted children.
I have been very sick for most of my youths, and I did not really expect it to happen, but sometimes our bodies surprise us – one way or another.
Especially the “being someones mother” part, is a very interesting thought. I was very lost, sad and depressed. Having my daughters did not make me a happy person, but it made me a thankful person with lots of happy moments. I agree, it might not be fair, to put your missing identity on a child´s back – but I truly feel, that I was meant to be a mother. I do have a career ( I am a pediatrician), I have friends, but before I was a mother, there was a large blank space, that hurt. Does that make sense?
I think, it is very brave, to accept the possibility of not having children ever, when you are not sure, it that is indeed okay for you, and to be willing to deal with either outcome.
Thank you for this, Grechen. I am also mid-40’s, married, childless and full of mixed emotions. My husband just said two days ago that he was sorry that we didn’t kids when I was ready to, that he is sad that we will be all alone when we are old. So the complications just seem to follow us around. I have found it especially hard to nurture meaningful friendships as most of the people our age have been focussed on doing things related to their children (understandably). I also experience an odd sense of timelessness…with nothing marking the passing of time in the way it does for my friends with grown kids. Am I 25 or 45? This is part of why I worry that I might become a person who doesn’t dress my age lol. I have come to the place in life where I realize I can make good, sustainable choices and focus on certain issues that impact the greater good that my childlessness affords me the time to make. My indigenous colleagues have a phrase “we all have grandchildren” that calls us to a greater awareness of how our choices connect to the following generations. I have found great comfort in the idea of grandchildren in this way.
I never wanted children and the decision to avoid pregnancy always felt like an easy and obvious one. The issues of fostering and adoption feel more complicated, and your thoughts about selfishness really resonated with me. I believe that the lives of children matter, and that it is horrible that so many children are cheated out of a supportive family environment. If I feel that way isn’t adopting or fostering the right thing to do? But I like my life as is, and I’ve never been fond of children. Spending much of my life in close contact with people who have adopted or who were adopted has made me see how complicated that process is for everyone. Every child deserves a loving home, but I just don’t know that I can be the one to provide that. Sometimes it feels very selfish to admit that, and sometimes I think that a better, kinder version of myself would wish that I felt differently. Thank you for talking about this.
I’m going to be 45 next week, I’m divorced, and I don’t have kids. I got married when I was 28 and I think I assumed at some point we’d have kids, but it was never something I really desperately wanted. My ex was equally (if not more) ambivalent about it. We got divorced when I was 40 and I’ve been more or less single since because dating is a nightmare. So, yeah, kids aren’t going to happen for me and I’m okay with it. I definitely worry that I’m missing out on a Major Life Experience but I never had much biological clock to begin with. I’m also very lucky that I have several friends my age or older (all married) who’ve chosen not to have kids and they’re all pretty happy people with full and interesting lives.
I do wish that I’d been more direct in responding to the people who implied that I’m selfish for not having children, as if having children is a completely selfless act! There are just as many bad reasons for having kids as there are for not having them, you know?
Anyway, thanks for writing this, Grechen. It’s a complicated thing and I think it’s great that you told your story.
I’ve been a silent reader for 2 years now – I love your sense of style, but I’m not much of a commenter on the internet in general and I feel like my English is not so great. I just wanted to reach out after you opened up your heart like this. It’s such a personal, intense decision and yet as women we’re asked this question about “how many kids, do you want another, etc etc” so often. I’m 38 and get the question of “are you done? When is the next one” a lot – in my country most women in my social group have 3 kids and there is peer pressure to do so. I’m very torn about whether to have another and spend a lot of my internal emotional dialogue on this topic. What I wanted to say to you is that I’ve come to the realization is that it’s ok not to know the right answer with certainty and it’s ok to doubt and it’s ok to have regrets one way or the other. I have two kids and the two experiences could not be more different so far. So there is no “one” child experience either. My first was an easy healthy baby and I had an easy time recovering and reveling in the joy of motherhood. My second child has some serious health issues and although he will be ok with proper care, the first two years were a very dark place for us where we cried and cried and cried – and didn’t know how to be happy again in the future. So no way to predict what motherhood will bring into your life. That being said, life is very long and the window to make a baby is very small in comparison to the time we have to build a career, get healthy, travel, etc. So if there is a little voice asking for a biological child, I would force the issue with your husband and act on it while you still have a little time. Ask yourself: what would I do if I wasn’t afraid? I know this is not what most other comments are saying, but that is my thinking process. At the same time, there is so much comfort in continuing your life and your journey and not “blowing it all up” with a baby. And frankly, you can give so much more love and attention to the family that you do have and there is immense joy in that privilige. I still pine for another baby, but I am choosing not to have more, so that I can focus and enjoy what I do have already. And I’m realizing that it’s ok to feel both things simultaneously and that I will likely always wish for/regret not having the baby and that is something I am ok to live with.
Thank you for your sensitive and thoughful post and thank you to the other commenters who wrote such heartfelt and interesting things. Such a dear topic.