Thursday, March 18, 2010


Even before I was TTC myself, I often had conflicted feelings about childless couples. (By "childless couples," I mean couples who I knew had been married a while, were close to/over 30 and seemed to be settled in their lives and had not had children. If a couple was unmarried, young, or still in school or getting started in a career, or their marriage was on the rocks, I just assumed they weren't yet at a point where they'd begun thinking about the kids issue or that they wanted children but were waiting for a more appropriate time to have them.)

I say "conflicted" feelings because I seesawed back and forth between two viewpoints. On the one hand, I believe that parenthood is something which no one should undertake if s/he don't truly want to be a parent. From all I've heard and observed from those with children, parenthood can be really difficult even for those who genuinely desire a child. It's just hard work and, like anything else in life that requires a huge commitment of time and energy, it probably shouldn't be done by people who are not sure they want to do it.

On the other hand, I have often had the (probably unfair) view that people who choose not to have children are, more likely than not, selfish. Aside from the rare person who chooses not to parent due to coming from a highly dysfunctional background or because of serious health issues, it seems that the reasons cited by most for living "child-free" seem to center around a desire to devote all their time to their own pursuits. I suppose that if someone chooses to live his/her life that way, I shouldn't think him/her selfish, but historically I have thought of voluntarily childless couples this way.

Interestingly, when I contemplated childless couples prior to TTC, rarely did I consider the possibility that the couple was unable to have children. I always figured the couples' childlessness was a conscious choice. Strange, but I suppose in line with my mistaken belief that achieving pregnancy is easy.

Recently the subject of childlessness came up at work with some people in the office who we'll call "fertiles," for lack of a better term. Aside from me, all those participating in the conversation have more than one child (ranging in age from 3 to 17), had no difficulties conceiving them--or indeed, timing their pregnancies for their convenience--and don't seem to have had any firsthand experience with infertility, either their own or that of a close family member/friend.

One of the fertiles (who has three sons) expressed the opinion that when he knows a couple without children, he assumes that they are childless by choice. It never crosses his mind that the couple might want children but be unable to have them. Others agreed.

My coworkers' comment, and the other fertiles' agreement, has given me food for thought. I certainly don't judge these fertiles harshly for their viewpoint because it was one I shared up until recently. But having now had the experience of being unable to have a child of my own, I recognize that the true reason behind a couple's childlessness may be something other than a desire to avoid the responsibilities and burdens of parenthood.

Given that I was 37 and MM was 35 when we married, I can certainly see how someone might conclude that we have chosen childlessness. It would seem, to outward appearances, that we waited so many years to "settle down" because marriage and family were perhaps not as important to us as they are to others. (That's not the case, but I can see how people might think it.) In fact, we have friends, a couple who are of similar ages to us who married two months before us, who did choose childlessness; they made a consciousness decision to devote themselves to pursuing their respective careers and traveling rather than being parents.

Thinking about this, I can't decide which is worse: people knowing that we desperately want a child and cannot have one, or people thinking that we are childless by choice. I don't know that I would want to be an object of pity for people with children, but I also don't want people thinking (wrongly) that MM and I have chosen not to have children so that we can continue living the same self-centered lives we always have.

I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts about couples they know who are childless and what assumptions, if any, you've made about why they aren't parents.


  1. i only know one other couple that are married and don't have kids. i know that they are childless by choice (she knows all about how hard i've tried) - becuase he already has 4 kids from previous marriages. she is wife #3. she knew her dh didn't want to have more kids when she married him, and she was fine with that. i understand it, becuase before i married dh, i was pretty settled on remaining single and childless for the rest of my life! if i hadn't met dh, i was going to be fine. so, i think she was in that same place, and since her dh didn't want any more kids, she didn't "flip that switch" back on (for kids). that is how i felt...after meeting dh and talking about kids and that he DID want to have another one (he's got one) - i flipped my baby switch from "off" to "on." now that darn thing is stuck...

  2. I think the problem is that so many people hear so much about all the fertility treatments available today, & just assume that anyone who wants children can & will have them, some way. They don't realize just how low the success rates are, particularly for older couples.


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