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.
Thank you for sharing this. I am in my mid 30s, and have been married 6 months. I went through a period the past two years where I started doubting my life-long feeling that I wasn’t interested in being a mother, and felt incredibly upset because we’re at places in our careers right now where the time and money to have a child just is not there, and won’t be for several years. And then for some reason, one day the cloud lifted again and I was back to being able to see that in context, again, as one of several reasons I don’t wish to be a mother and realize that what I was feeling was primarily 1) the fear of being left alone in old age, and 2) the fear of missing out that were stopping me from recognizing what I’d felt to be the case since childhood which was that the choice is not only “I will have a child” but also “I will not have/do…” I spent the early years of my education and career under the operating assumption that having children would hold me back, and truth be told I don’t think I was incorrect – and that was the priority I chose (thank goodness, since I waste the time in a bad first marriage) and so here I have found myself.
Relief from my self-doubt finally came, I think, when I realized that I owed the self I had been for 30+ years more respect before deciding, because others told me my life would not be complete, that she had been terribly wrong about everything and didn’t really know what was important to her.
Yet – that doesn’t mean I don’t also have reasons for wanting a child that I DO think are good reasons and we’ve talked about maybe adopting one day when life is more stable, but for now why question what looks right to me just because it’s not what looks right to someone else?
And so, I too think “childfree by choice” can be an over-simplification. If I were ten years younger, student debt free, etc etc maybe the right choice would seem different – or not.
I love your honesty and your openness in tackling such a sensitive subject. i have to admit, after I got married, I just went with the flow and had my kids, and life was busy and full- but maybe I am selfish because I never really got back to my career that I loved, and when my kids were grown, I didn’t have the self confidence to go back. So, I settled for a money making job- but not one that I loved.. I got divorced, and remarried ( to someone with no kids, thank God!) and my 4 kids are grown.
But- and this is what I never expected- I spend SO MUCH of my time now (I’m 63) worrying about them as adult children. I thought things would be simple by this age. Two of mine are very self sufficient and have good lives, but one has battled substance abuse for years, and one just squeaks by on an elementary school teacher’s salary teaching special ed kids and is depressed about not ever meeting a true love. They both stress me beyond belief, and keep me up at night, and I many, many, many times wish I had actually really thought about what I was getting in to way back in my 20’s. ..it makes me feel like I didn’t do them justice, and shouldn’t have been a parent.
I’m looking at it from a different side of it than you, but often times I feel the pain of having children can outweigh the “joys”. There is no right answer, and who knows what paths our lives will take.
FYI- my kids live in all different parts of the world, and the idea that any of them would drop everything and “take care” of me is pretty laughable! My girl friends and I have decided we’ll go together and buy a place where we can all grow old and take care of each other!
Hi Gretchen, I wanted to say thank you so much for this open and honest post. I am almost 38, and my husband and I have been trying to have a baby for three years with no success. We’ve had three miscarriages and are in the middle of our first (hopefully only) IVF cycle. We’re transferring a frozen embryo in just over a week.
There’s so much I could say about this topic – the range of emotions is so wide. I am in awe of your ability to talk about it in an open forum.
I recently had a new friend, childless by choice, say to me that she always felt deciding to have a kid should be like deciding to get a tattoo on your forehead, and she was just never that sure. It made me a little nervous because I am still not that sure! I think about how I want to get in really good shape this year or go to Italy or buy a Mini Cooper and having a kid seems so at odds with those desires.
I think that if the IVF works, I’ll be happy. If it doesn’t work, I know I’ll be ok. But, I don’t think I necessarily want to try again after we’ve used the two embryos we have. Maybe we’ll become foster parents or adopt, but I’ve realized that I’ve spent enough of my life trying to get pregnant…it’s been all consuming. I’ll actually be relieved when it’s over, one way or another.
Thank you for sharing such an intimate story 🙂 My husband and I are childless by choice due to financial and personality considerations. Observations: It’s funny, because when I was little, I always thought I would have a lot of children. When I reached my twenties, I never felt “ready” to have kids. I also used to look at people with there children and never thought they looked that happy. Anyway, my husband and I agreed that we had a hard enough time taking care of ourselves, let alone bringing a child into it. Something else I’ve always believed – I should never have a child out of fear that there wouldn’t be anyone around to take care of me in my old age. After all, what if your child ends up being the one needing lifelong care because of a disability? There are no guarantees or ideal situations in life. We plan, and God laughs.
How did I miss this?!? Grechen, you handle the topic of being childless with such HONESTY (Seriously, sometimes I want to mother you…and sometimes I DO!…and say, “Honey, guard your heart a little more!” But that wouldn’t be you, would it?) and EMPATHY. You continually amaze me. You’re like the poster child for personal growth. 😉
I was the woman who was going to run off to NYC after college, and be a buyer for Bloomingdales…no kids for me! But instead, I fell in love with a forest ranger in college and got married 6 days after graduation. I didn’t want kids, until all of a sudden, I DID. And that baby bug bit me hard. That’s when I realized that my body didn’t work as I wanted it to. All of those years of suffering from horrendously heavy cramping and irregular periods meant that I couldn’t get pregnant. I went to a specialist 5 hrs away because we lived in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I was on Clomid, taking my temperature every morning and driving to Madison once a month for painful endometrial biopsies that showed that I wasn’t ovulating, Clomid or no Clomid. Then, after I maxed-out on Clomid dosage, my left ovary blew up like a balloon, so I had to go off of the meds. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I had that same ovary removed 20 something years later due to a dermoid cyst.
So, there we are, me wanting a baby, sex becoming a “must” on the “right” days, at the “perfect” time. It wasn’t a healthy situation for us as a couple. And then my Gyno suggested that Perganol shots were the next step…but she warned us that we had better be prepared for multiples, because that possibility was significantly increased with the drug. After a long discussion, we decided that we’d had enough for awhile and we’d just take our chances. We discussed adoption, but the truth is, we didn’t have much money at the time and we had issues to work out if we were going to stay together. (Almost 35 yrs later, we’re still together and I can’t imagine walking through life with anyone but him!)
My periods were still as irregular as ever, so three years later, I wasn’t surprised at all to miss my period for two months in a row. But then my body started to have weird changes, like sore boobs, nausea, and a bone-aching tiredness. So, my co-worker talked me into getting a pregnancy test. Yes! I was pregnant with my first daughter, Jordan, who is now 30. We went on to have Rachel, 28, and then our best surprise ever, Anna, 18.
My kids have given me great joy and continue to, along with the ups and downs of any close relationship. If I’d been childless, I think I’m the kind of person who would have adapted to whatever life threw my way. But I should say that with a BIG dose of humility…I’ve had friends that have suffered from infertility, and mine resolved itself, so, who’s to say? Maybe we would have adopted…maybe not. Through the years, we’ve taken in various teenagers who we’re going through problems at home or were kicked out by their parents. I think that was just meant to be a part of my life…I’ve got 4 other kids that aren’t mine, but call me Mom. That makes me pretty darned happy, and it’s as valid a mom as any kind!
Thank you for this beautiful post and all of the wonderful readers who shared their stories. <3
Grechen Reiter says
i don’t know how you missed this either 🙂
thanks for sharing your story, val.
I just stumbled upon this post when looking for posts on minimalism and fashion and I am glad I did. I just turned 40 and have a similar story to yours. When I was younger I thought for sure I would have kids but I started my career late, got married at 30, and was divorced at 37. I never felt ready to have kids because my marriage was a mess and I didn’t want to bring a child into it. I too met my current partner pretty quickly after my divorce was final. He also missed out on having kids for the same reason I did. We’ve discussed the possibility of having them now but with me at 40 and him at 44, both of us with medical issues that will only worsen as we age, and the burden of rebuilding our financial security post-divorce, we have decided it is not the responsible thing for us to do.
I’ve also come to the realization that the real question is not if you are ready to “have” kids, but rather if you are ready to “raise” kids. Anyone can “have” a child, but not everyone is ready to make the lifelong sacrifices that it takes to be a parent. Most people don’t even understand the distinction between having a child and raising one and everything that goes into it. Over the years I have also learned that I am not so keen on making the sacrifices needed to be a parent. Most likely this is because I am the oldest child of 5, my youngest siblings being 13 and 15 years younger than me. Their father abandoned the family (they are my half sisters from my moms 2nd marriage) leaving me to fill the place of second parent. While I love them with all my heart and openly acknowledge that there are many wonderful and rewarding things about caring for and watching a child grow to adulthood (they are now 27 and 25), I was forced by a mother that was not financially or emotionally equipped to raise five children on her own, to give up my childhood and help raise babies . The rose-colored glasses many tend to view the potential of parenthood through never existed for me and were replaced by the knowledge that those wonderful moments are about 10% of the job and the other 90% is tedious, exhausting, thankless work where you lose all sight of your self and your personal interests.
I need to make clear that I am in no way bashing anyone’s decision to have kids. I love kids; they are awesome and they remind me to always be curious and that I do not always need take life so seriously. However it takes much more than love for kids to raise them and I am not confident that I have what it takes to do that well. Quite honestly, I am more confident in the fact that I would resent the responsibility of raising kids than I am in my desire to have them. Some people find my point of view selfish and usually argue that “I will regret my decision” or “you will feel differently about your own kids”. Maybe, maybe not, but this point in my life it seems less selfish (and frankly just plain easier) to live with my own choice not to have kids than to take the risk of resenting the responsibilities of parenthood and messing up the life of a kid who had no choice in who his or her parents are.
Well I’m coming upon this post a bit late.
My husband and I are childless. Our story is similar to yours. Multiple tries, multiple miscarriages and after a while I gave up. We told ourselves that there was always adoption but I think in the end we were somewhat scared about everything involved in the process to adopt so we waited and then eventually it just seemed like it was too late.
I have nieces and nephews I adore as well but I must confess that these days I watch my fully grown nieces at outings with my sister in law, discussing every day career concerns or planning mother daughter only vacations and I find myself back to my 20’s longing for a daughter all over again. It’s funny that this particular ache would return a fresh after 25 plus years. Perhaps the wonders of middle age never cease. At any rate, congratulations on your baby boy to be and best wishes,
Hi Katherine, I just found this older post of Grechen’s and read all the comments…yours resonated with me so personally it stopped me in my tracks. Thank you for sharing this. <3